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Photography Question 
Lacey M. Armstrong

Emotionally Effective Photographs

I have found myself with the responsibility of writing an 8-10 page essay (not report) about photography in order to graduate. I would love to write about the art of taking EMOTIONALLY EFFECTIVE photographs. Do you have any tips for taking emotion-provoking photographs, especially of people? How does the background and other such things effect the effectiveness (excuse the wordiness) of photographs?
Thank you,
Lacey (18) in Idaho

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3/9/2003 2:17:49 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
A full answer could take 8-10 pages! :-)

Some "mind tools" as you explore this:
1. Think of a photograph as a means of communication between the photographer and those who view the photograph later.
2. The photograph is a visual medium only, and it's 2-dimensional. When making it, the photographer sees in 3-dimensions and will experience all the other senses as well: sound, smell, taste and touch. The photograph, however, is only a recording of light. It cannot directly stimulate these other senses in a person viewing it in another place at a later time. It must stimulate them indirectly using visual cues, just as it needs to use lighting, perspective and vanishing points to cue a sense of depth and dimension.
3. How the viewer of a photograph reacts to its visual cues relies totally on the viewer's life experiences. Because of this, the photograph must communicate its intended "message" in the "visual language" of its intended viewers. This may not be the same as the photographer's, but it requires the photographer at least understand it. This extends to size (or scale) of things in the photograph, and to perceived horizontal and vertical direction. These can only be referenced to recognizable objects contained in the photograph, that are nearly always the same size, or are nearly always horizontal or vertical (e.g. horizon lines, telephone poles, fence posts, walls, etc.). Find and study "sybolism" that conveys meaning . . . both prominent and subtle . . . this is intertwined with some of what follows.
4. Find and study the psychology of "body language." Facial expression formed in particular by the eyes and mouth plus body posture. Mixed in with this is the psychology of the "formal elements" in both body language, other prominent objects, and in background: lines, shapes, space, scale, repetition, etc. Then consider bold and straight with sharp angles and high contrast versus less prominent, curved, rounded angles and low contrast. Consider also relative position and scale and how it can be used evoke domination or submission. Color also has meaning: Red, yellow, blue, green, highly saturated versus pastel, etc. With background . . . high key versus low key.
5. With people, lighting can be used to accentuate or diminish various formal elements as used in posing them. Find and study the basic types of portraiture lighting (loop, Rembrandt [triangle], Paramount [butterfly], split, and profile), and the effect it has, including photographing from the short side or broad side, and photographing people from slightly above or slightly below affects the message being conveyed. Consider also the quality of the lighting: diffused versus direct, and contrast level between main and fill.

I recommend you go to a library and look at books of "people" photographs . . . formal portraiture, informal portraiture, environmental portraiture and candids. First, determine what they convey to you and how you feel viewing them. Then break them down using the things I've mentioned about formal elements, position and scale, body language, color, lighting, etc. Compare what the photographs have conveyed to you with your breakdowns of them. Then draw the conclusions and connection with how these things are used to comminucate emotion and senses beyond the visual to those viewing a photograph.

-- John

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3/9/2003 4:41:33 PM

Lacey M. Armstrong   Thank you so much, John. This will all help in my paper. If you wouldn't mind I would love to use your response as a source for my paper, I know it is a weird question, but, if you are willing, could you send me your last name and hometown?
Thanks again.

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3/9/2003 5:52:30 PM

Phil Penne   Whew! John's answer is a hard act to follow! Best I can do is to add a bit. I'd recommend reading some biographical notes about, and studying the photographs of, Alfred Stieglitz. When it comes to evoking an emotional response, it's hard to beat his work. His portraits (especially those of his wife, artist Georgia O'Keefe) can, on occasion, be downright haunting. It has been said that Stieglitz had the ability to mesmerize his subjects; don't know how true that is, be definitely put that extra something into his work that others did not. In addition to his portraits, also look at his other works like "Steerage" (arguably his finest work), "Winter on Fifth Avenue", and "Flatiron Building".
Good luck!

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3/18/2003 6:48:15 AM

Lacey M. Armstrong   Thank you Phil! I will have to check that out at the library and online.
Thanks again!

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3/18/2003 5:02:51 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Phil has mentioned the single most influential individual in modern photography: Alfred Stieglitz. I am remiss at not suggesting some names to look for in seeking works to study!

Had Stieglitz never made a single photograph himself, his other work promoting photography as an art form in its own right, and promoting the works of other photographers would still earn this title. Stieglitz created the 291 gallery with the help of Clarence H. White and Eduard Steichen (assembled the works for Family of Man, NY MoMA, 1955). His primary work spans at least 55 years from the 1890's to the end of WWII and three major periods: Pictorialism (The Linked Ring), Photo-Secessionism (rejected pictorialism's drive to imitate painting, engraving, etc.), and New Realism. The works of Steichen and Paul Strand (his works were heavily promoted by Stieglitz) also reflect this evolution, each in their own way.

Others whose works are important and very influential in expressing emotion:
* Edward Weston (arguably the Grand Master of light)
* Henri Cartier-Bresson (arguably the Grand Master of the candid)
* Margaret Bourke-White (Life Magazine)
* Alfred Eisenstadt (Life Magazine)

Cartier-Bresson made his fame during the 1930's with "street shooting" that captured magnificent candids of everyday life; he was the master of "the decisive moment." He and three others founded Magnum Photos shortly after WWII (Robert Capa, George Rodger, and David Seymour).

Both Bourke-White and Eisenstadt started with Life Magazine when it was founded by Henry Luce in 1936; Bourke-White shot its first cover photograph. If Eisenstadt is the "father" of U.S. editorial photography, Bourke-White is its "mother." Bourke-White had worked with Luce for Fortune magazine prior to Life's startup. She also did quite a bit of work during the 1930's photographing the "human condition" in Russia as it was industrializing and of sharecroppers in the U.S. . . . among other projects. Eisenstadt was an AP photographer in Berlin, Germany during the 1930's and immigrated to the U.S. in 1935. The two established the tone and style of U.S. editorial photography, raising it beyond documentary support of written text to an art form. Their photographs could often stand entirely on their own.

-- John

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3/18/2003 8:01:57 PM

Lacey M. Armstrong  
  Raising Old Glory
Raising Old Glory
photograph by T.E. Franklin, NY Firemen raising the flag on September 11, 2001
© Lacey M. Armstrong
Thank you so much again, gentlemen. I have decided to base my essay on a photograph of September 11th by one Thomas E. Franklin of The Record in New Jersey. I think you will find the image familiar. All of the resouces you have suggested are working very well!

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3/18/2003 9:28:08 PM

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