Photo Critique: Telling a story

Sometimes a simple snapshot mysteriously turns into a storytelling photo.

By TOM LANGFORD
July 24, 2011 20:54
2 minute read.
Evora, a small town in Portugal

woman hanging laundry 311. (photo credit: Maxim Reider)

Here is a great shot by Maxim Reider. He took it in Evora, a small town in Portugal.

Telling a Story is one of the most important factors when thinking about taking pictures. Without a story, a picture is just a snap. Maxim sent me this grab shot and says: “Sometimes a simple snapshot mysteriously turns into a storytelling photo. I just saw this old woman, made a photo, she heard the click, turned to me, we both smiled to each other and continued with our lives.”

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This shot contains all of the qualities that all Good Pictures have in common:

1. Background – The washing line and flat wall background add to, rather than detract from the shot.

2. Awareness – The impersonal shape of the woman is echoed in the shapes of the washing. Often the worst place to position a subject is the center of the shot. Here it works and adds to the elegant simplicity of the composition.

3. Story – This is a compelling and amusing “story”. It’s difficult not to be drawn in and become involved. The woman and washing are static but I’m sure that at any moment I will see her hand move, or she will start to bend down, lift her head, or at least the breeze will ruffle something on the line!



4. Imagination – Usually a photographer’s imagination will instantly suggest alternative angles that tell different stories. But you must be aware when something special is happening and grasp that opportunity while it lasts. Such a good shot demands that you stand your ground and shoot as much as you can. Only then do you move position to find alternative stories.

5. Critique – We’ll be looking at how photographers give themselves instant feedback before taking a shot, while taking the shot, and after taking the shot. Although the shot is excellent I can’t help hankering after a few slight variations – the head square on, a glimpse of the hands, etc.

Maxim scores 100% for Background, Awareness, and Story, and 50% each for Imagination and critique.

When you take such a good shot it can give you the courage of an Oliver Twist to “ask for more." Photographers often use their cameras as a passport to friendship and intimacy, but Maxim took only one shot and the woman turned: “we both smiled to each other and continued with our lives.”

Here was a great opportunity to make friends and ask permission (probably with friendly sign language) to take a few more shots of hanging the washing. This would give the opportunity to fully engage Steps 4 and 5, Imagination and Critique, and afterward take alternative views. Perhaps Maxim would have been invited into the house and have some extra unique opportunities to take other Good Pictures.

Of course we often don’t have time for this sort of photojournalistic sightseeing. But be warned that the photography bug can turn a decent holidaymaker into a liability as they constantly stop to take “just one more shot”, or disappear with their camera when all their friends want to do is to take snaps!


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