Paying Attention

"Generation Barrier"
Photojournalism is all about capturing the moment.

Henri Cartier-Bresson put it best when he said: 'Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished: there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.'

If you are not fully prepared - you will miss it...

When asked what I think is the most important quality required by a photojournalist - I always reply: anticipation. You need to develop that elusive sixth-sense which allows you to recognise situations that you have previously encountered and recall how they most frequently develop. You need to pay attention - and draw upon what you remember.

Strong composition is critical in any successful image; but often it is not about golden-spirals, golden ratios, triangles, diagonals, or the rule-of-thirds so much as the way in which living elements are captured reacting to each other. The turn of a head or the direction in which a subject is looking can often have far more power to direct the viewer's attention than an 'ideal' geometric arrangement. (If you want to piss-off a wedding photographer: just stare towards the edge of his frame when he captures you in that group photo).

The one photographic contrast that is often overlooked is that between the subjects and their backdrop. Generally speaking, if you compose for the backdrop, you can leave your subjects free to compose themselves. That is especially true of natural terrains in which any movements are physically restricted. (If you are covering a war-zone: it is the secret to obtaining those centre-page spreads).

Of course, all moments are fleeting, and, in order to capture them successfully, we need to expose just at the time they occur. If we get our timing right in the SLR's viewfinder, we won't actually see what we have taken until the review stage - because the mirror will flip-up just in time to present the scene's reflected light to the sensor.

Sometimes, the peak moment that we expected does not occur, and we will just be left with a short sequence of well composed images; but, on other occasions, our hunches pay off successfully - as I've illustrated in the above GIF.

For want of a better term, I always refer to images like this as a 'set-up.' The sequence was taken as part of my musings upon the UK's BREXIT referendum result and the subsequent talk of safe-spaces and a generational divide.

It's a 'set-up' because I had already composed the image I wanted in my mind's eye. The upper left third contained the distant seashore with youngsters playing, and the barrier dominated the centre - all it lacked was a suitable foreground figure in the remaining third.

It's pretty difficult not to have your attention drawn to nature's magnificent seascape when you are walking along the seafront, alone and minding your own business - so the contrast was there for the taking. It was only during the processing stage that I saw the .GIF opportunity to reveal another that was also consistent with the theme (running/walking).

The only other thing I've done is to slightly realign the four-image sequence (giving the animation a slight tilt) to emphasize the slightly different perspectives obtained from hand-holding the camera in continuous mode. It is that realignment which produces the illusion of the barrier 'pushing away' the foreground figure.

You shouldn't overlook the humble GIF for those short, 3 or 4 frame sequences. Their stutter-pause-repeat loop can be quite mesmerising - drawing the viewer's attention into and throughout the image. Furthermore, they can also be exhibited - by producing each frame as a transparency and sandwiching them together in suitable layers of Perspex to produce a 3D 'walk-around.'

It is surprising just how often those 'contact strips' reveal another exploitable angle that hadn't been considered when shooting - so it is always well worth paying attention during the review stage as well.

This is the wide-shot, created by continuing to shoot and pan-left to 'bear witness' to the full scene.

"Safety Zones"
In this, 12 megapixel image, I've snapped the white-balance to the shot of my colour control card, and slightly burned the white expanse of the horizon's sky to bring out the distant cloud detail.

Not bad, from a tiny P7000 (and dispensing with all those geometric rules).

Always think outside the confines of your viewfinder when composing the actual shot.

That backdrop ain't going anywhere...