Sunday, November 28, 2010

Follow-Up to My Monk Photograph Question

On Friday, I posted the above photograph, which I took in Laos this past October the day before the Full Moon Ceremony.

I asked the reader: Is there something about the photograph that bothers you? It was kinda a trick question, because I knew what most folks would say – in more or less words: I do not like crop - the decapitated monk on the left side of the frame bothers me.

You can see all the comments here.

Several years ago, I would not have cropped the picture in this manner. My basic philosophy at the time, and one that I generally still follow: Don't amputate people at the joints and don't decapitate them!

In the past few years, however, the style of cropping off body parts has become a style – as illustrated in ads and even in National Geographic.

The idea behind this exercise: it's a good idea to look at the work of other photographers. It's a great way to learn – and to determine, for yourself, what you like and what you don't like

I am sure there are those out there who still rather see the monk's head in the frame. That's cool.

I find it interesting that I was influenced by this cut-off style. Here are some screen grabs that illustrate this shooting/cropping style.

Before moving on, of course we could comment on each of the above photographs – and every photograph ever published in the history of the world. The OMG! ad was obviously a set-up shot. And the above medical-type shot was surely a gotta-capture-this-moment type shot. But what about the Women Digging shot - which I love? Notice how all the subjects are perfectly - yes perfectly - isolated from each other. At first glance, it looks like a documentary-type photograph, but my guess, and it's only a guess, is that some planning went into the wonderful photograph.

For answers as to why we seem to accept the cut-off style, in most cases, I turned to some of my photographer friends.

Kayla Lindquist – It takes away from being a specific person to being a mood, feeling or fantasy. Sometimes it works other times it doesn't.

• • •

Jeff Kane - I know that I'm supposed to have a problem with the amputations, but in your photo I think the "body" seems to frame and focus the picture pretty well.

Jeremy Pollack - Here's a thought... reality TV.

Bear with me here. What I find common amongst all these images, beyond their different framing, is that they all feel as if they are taken at eye level or just below. Just about the same level as a steadicam or the even more common "shakey cam" from many newer movies, reality TV shows and Youtube . The same framing, but from a higher angle, would not work as you would lose that sense of immersion in the photograph. Instead, these images all offer a sense of being in the middle of the scene, as if it is just a frame grab from a moving picture.

This type of camera work is extremely common in the movies now, as well as in reality TV. Just as we photographers are trying to become videographers, we appear to be mimicking some of the modern videography trends in our still photographs.

Fat Frog Photography

(Hey, it me, Rick, again. I think Jeremy has something there. Below are two screen grabs from the intro movie for my Light It! app. The opening shot shows my head cut off, but just a few seconds later you can see that it's me. Good work Jeremy!)

Click here to see the actual Light It! app movie.

• • •

David H. Wells – In GOOD cases it gives the viewer the feeling of being part of the situation in the photo. It creates a feeling of being there, of being close to or even intimate with the people in the image. In the BAD cases it looks sloppy, like a form of bad surgery.
• • •

Richard Zakia - Rick, With the non-ad photographs, I think the reason is that the center of interest was most important and that is what the photographer wanted to call attention to – i.e. the focal point.

With the ad, the removed part of the woman's head was, of course, intentional. This makes the model anonymous as if she was wearing a mask so she could be anyone and not a particular person and still be attractive. I recall some earlier ads that actually decapitated the persons head. The noted photographer John Baldessari did a whole series of photographs with the heads of men and woman covered with a colored circular sticker.

Richard Zakia - Photographic Composition.

• • •

Thanks to my friends for sharing their insight. And thank you all for participating in this exercise.

And while I'm on the topic of others influencing our thinking . . . think about music. If you play an instrument (as I do), no doubt you were and are influenced by another musicians.

Explore the light,

P.S. Here are two more pictures that break the standard rules of composition.

I'm almost done! Below is photo of a famous statute that has the arms "amputated" . . . and it's still a popular work of art.

Hey, I know I've spent way too much time on this blog post. I am going back to playing guitar – and trying to sound like Santana.


MLKstudios said...

The subject in the frame is the boy building something. The rest are "supporting elements".

I would have lowered the comp even further to capture all of the "toy" the boy is making.

Matthew L Kees
Director of

victor said...

I am not against 'amputations', but how they are done and how much is included/excluded makes the difference. The examples are all good. In your pic - just too much of the headless body and the hand near the crotch ruin it.

Al Marsh said...

I never even noticed the amputation angle. Are we reaching a time when any old composition will not only do, but will be the newest thing and copied by all?

Mike Hendrickson said...

None of those examples are actually completely headless like your monk. He feels more like a distracting element than a mysterious one as the focus is on the rest of the monks. I quite like the look of just the bottom half of the head showing on the first example(the rest of the head is implied to us and mysterious). The random arm one is ok because of the perfect framing of the main subject which almost completely grabs my attention. The amputated pick also has some repetition qualities.

The last one, like you said is more about the perfect moment. Any other composition to try to fit more of the scene in would also make it lose the more intimate closeup feeling and we might not see the look on his face quite as easily.