For the sake of simplicity, let’s have popcorn as a subject. It hosts fascinating visual attributes: irregular shapes, weightlessness, whiteness, volume, multitude, dryness, crunchiness, tenderness, puffiness... It is associated with leisure, free time, parties, picnic and cinema. Pop corn is an inexpensive, quick and easy snack. The cooking method of popping is adventurous. The taste is mild and bland but enlivened by salt, butter, spices or sweetness.
The power of photographing food is in a non-verbal transmission of the qualities it presents. More we observe and interact with the subject, more material we have to work with. The qualities offer unlimited inspiration for styling and lighting. They are exposed by identical, similar or contrasting compositional details.
The process of photographing becomes personal when we ask: what is it about the subject that attracts and interests me; what is the goal of capturing it; how will it be reached? A well shot image is taken with the presence of mind. It gives voice to the internal conversation between the photographer and the elements. An inability to be individually involved – namely, copying and imitating others – is caused by a lack of understanding relationships. It focuses on the result instead of the process. Even if the objects are arranged according to the rules of composition, such an image remains mute: the story is tainted by a dissonance.
How a photograph is interpreted by others depends, besides its creative and functional merits, on the viewers’ set of values and ability to read visual cues. In order to introduce some of the vocabulary of composition, I will analyse the images taken of popcorn today.
Some photographers sketch before shooting. Many select props and arrange the set. I do neither. However, a mental image of the scene often develops while I’m cooking. I may notice new things about the ingredients, preparation or environment that I want to bring out. But when I grab the camera, it is like standing on the edge of a dock, and then, with a trusting heart, plunging into the depth of water. I renounce control, and accept and communicate with whatever is around at the moment.
Since popcorn is light by nature, I wanted to balance it with something heavy. There is nothing more dense than black. To soften the tonal separation, I smudged the background with chalk, pinned a piece of paper on it and added a couple of colourful props on the table. It defines the colour-theme for the rest of the post: white, grey, black, brown and some drops of colour.
The right side is darker, silent, empty and weights more. It has a harmonic dialogue with the left side that is lively and busy. The horizontal format leaves a lot of breathing space within the frame and offers a peaceful mood.
There are several visible and invisible leading lines that direct attention to and keep it on the subject: the smudges; the edges of the table; the order and direction of the elements.
Three-dimensionality is shown by a strong horizontal line, a clear distinction between the foreground and background, and the shadows.
Details are tiny and often clever additions that support the centre of interest. A few drops of salt on the table suggest it is used with the popcorn. The odd dishes, strange piece of paper and tilted glass indicate it is a less serious occasion. My dive into the deep waters was all about fun today!
Variety keeps the subject fresh. An engaging illustration approaches the topic from different angles and moods. Contrast embellishes unity, just like separation enhances reunion.
A while ago my husband surprised me by volunteering to help by posing or clicking. To have people, or even body parts (wow, it sounds cadaver!), in a picture makes it easier to relate to. It is an interest boost! Plus, it is wonderful to work with someone else.
Simplicity is one of the essential features of photography. The ability to convey a story with a minimum number of elements is the key of successful, interactive imagery. Fewer characters there are, more specific their roles and temperaments are. Every texture, crack, fold, form, size and hue...counts!
Well paired images make a leap of plot without distracting the main narrative. The same rules and exceptions of composition apply to diptychs and single pictures.
There are prohibitions that are said to ruin an image. The location of the focus point is considered static and dull when in the centre, for example. However, an unexpected angle, situation or action may bring a dynamic outcome in spite of the doom. If we stare too intensely at the rules, we may miss unique opportunities and end up delivering boring and unexciting readings of reality that is never boring or unexciting! An intelligently executed chaos and disorder is a powerful tool in depicting harmony.
Paying attention to movement, direction and cropping is required. They either flatten or enforce the purpose.
These may not be high ranking photographs but reveal my focus is on living in light! Today I experienced the magic of popcorn by breathing through the camera. Never forget to live and have a jolly time while shooting! It is the foremost initial in the alphabet of composing.