We are photo crazy. One can hardly walk a block without witnessing someone snapping a photo or recording something. It’s a safe assumption that that photo or video will find its way to a social media platform. Smartphones have made photo taking and viewing a ubiquitous presence in our lives.
Imagery inundates our lives—we’ve become inured. Every photo we snap or view is communicating something. My last post explained how every image tells a story. Let’s explore what our mobile photos are saying so we can improve our craft or…receive more “likes.”
Seth Gitner describes the work of the photographer in Multimedia Storytelling for Digital Communicators in a Multiplatform World, “photographers’ work is a reflection of how they see the world and assign importance to all its countless scenes. Whether the shooter is a first-day beginner or a seasoned professional, their work represents their take on life. It is an art, a mode of creative expression, an example of the very human pursuit of capturing reality and seeking out larger truths behind it.”
When we snap selfies at sports events or shots of our food at restaurants, we’re capturing moments. Moments are instances in time. It is the fleeting instance occurring when the photo is taken. When photographers talk about moments, they’re referring to a climax in action or emotion. A moment has the hard-to-explain IT factor. It takes seasoning to observe, recognize, and capture moments.
The motivation of the photographer is a factor in determining if an image is interesting. Mike Davis, an educator and former National Geographic picture editor, says “The only thing that really counts is why you are making a picture, what are you trying to say about what you are dealing with. If there isn’t clarity in the part of the process, you are simply executing a mechanical process.”
Gitner outlined the following element of photography:
- Color (e.g., objects or backgrounds)
- Light (sources like lamps or sunshine)
- Composition (how things are arranged in the frame)
- Distance (the distance the camera is from the subject)
Four Categories of Photos
The Washington Post used four categories to divide photographs under Joe Elber, assistant managing editor for photography.
- Informational– the lowest level, factual, a photo was taken.
- Graphically Appealing– the photo includes something clever to “jazz things up” (e.g., composition, angles, or effects)
- Emotional—photographs that show subjects in an emotional light or elicits an emotional response from viewers.
- Intimate– photographs that feel personal and private, like the viewers are encroaching on a private moment.
My Mobile Shots
I’m going to use myself as a guinea pig and examine five photos of mine. Two afternoons this week, I took dozens of photos with my iPhone. These photos are snapshots of my daily life. Most of the pictures were taken after I left work in Albany, NY.
Cocker Spaniel Day Afternoon
This picture is of my parents’ cocker spaniel, Chip. It tells a story, capturing the moment he noticed a rabbit invading his turf. In this moment he had gotten up from sunbathing, and the next moment he scampers off to give chase. I’m not sure which category this photo fits into. I think it reaches the second category, graphically appealing. I was able to capture a moment when Chip had his ears perked and was concentrating. I’ll admit there’s nothing too interesting about the composition—Chip is in the center of the photo.
My Work Station
This photo is the only photo I chose that was shot indoors, and it is the only photo that I edited (other than resizing) before posting. I blurred my monitor for work-related privacy reasons. I filled the frame in the picture to tell a distinct and, perhaps, not flattering story about myself. The proximity between my coffee and keyboard speak volumes. The six inches that sperate my keyboard from my coffee tells a story of my coffee addiction. The photo shows that coffee is always on my mind, right under my nose and a hand grab away.
Every day, I pass this pothole and it always grabs my attention. The stone road beneath the pavement is a window into the past. The city of Albany has paved over a beautiful stone road in favor of a more practical surface. This picture tells an interesting story about Albany’s history—just beneath the pavement is a layer of history. This pothole gives us a glimpse into the past and how this street used to look. At least this photo is informational. It doesn’t need any effects to jazz it up.
The lighting was perfect when I took this photo. I didn’t apply filters or effects and the colors are rich from the natural lighting. This photo tells a story beyond fact or information. People are conspicuously absent. Where did everyone go? This section of Albany was deserted apart from a few cars, despite being 5:45 pm on a weekday afternoon.
I park on the roof of a garage and have a habit of checking the traffic level before I drive home. The roof is a good vantage point. I take an alternate route home if the traffic is heavy. I like the framing of this photo: clear blue sky, clear roads, and clear shadows. It was a happy accident that I captured a shadow of myself taking the photo, but it adds a layer of interest to the photo. Like the last photo, the lighting was perfect for this photo.
The next time you’re tempted to snap a photo with a phone think what’s my motivation? And remember the elements of photography. With practice, your photos will tell interesting stories, and you’ll impress viewers on your social media platform of choice.
Bergstrom, B. (2008). Chapter 2 storytelling. Essentials of visual communication (pp. 14-26). London, United Kingdom: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
Gitner, S. (2015). Visual storytelling in what ways do we think about visual storytelling every day? Multimedia storytelling for digital communicators in a multiplatform world (1st ed., pp. 1-33). New York, NY: Routledge.