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Late last year over in a our forums Jim Bryant (pictured left) from (Jim Bryant Photography) put together an article on the ‘Art of Seeing’ as a photographer that has helped quite a few of our members think about the way they approach their work. I thought it might help others too so wanted to share it here.
Over the years, photojournalists reach a point where they refine their personal approach of shooting skills. Each approach is different, but most of whom I have talked too all agrees that the basis of such a visual approach is the trained ability to see everything in great detail.
The late Frank Hoy, who I had as an instructor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and who later taught at Arizona State University, taught his students an exercise in detailed seeing called the EDFAT – Entire, Details, Frame, Angles, and Time, a method that allows you to fine-tune your photographic seeing.
This approach works as well with things as well as people. EDFAT will help you explore the familiar as if it was a brand new subject.
For a start, organize your seeing in terms of using three categories: the establishing shot, the medium shot, and the close up. Apply this approach to everything you see.
The old saying, “what you see you can photograph” only applies to someone who sees in reach detail. So take the time to make a short field trip as a practical test method. Sling your camera on your shoulder and carry it with you while you learn to see deeply and in detail during a short walking tour in an area where there are a lot of people.
As a photojournalist you will constantly deal with strangers, so your subject should be someone unknown. Approach the subject and introduce yourself. Explain what you want: A complete portrait of them based on shooting many photographs. You’ll be surprised on just how cooperative most people are when you explain your needs. When the subject agrees to be photograph, move back to about 15 feet and start shooting.
From 15 feet away, focus on the entire person as part of the environment and shoot one or two horizontal shots. Turn the camera to a vertical position and shoot two more. Move around the person and compose each shot differently in some strong composition. Don’t place the person in the center of the frame. While shooting, explore the person through your lens. Move in and from about 10 feet away, repeat the procedure. Then move in to about 7 feet and repeat your shooting process.
Now from 5 feet away search for details of the person now you are long longer photographing a person in relation to a large background, but you are making a portrait. So concentrate from the waist up. Shoot two horizontal frames and then to vertical frames. In doing this, you are framing the person in relation to the edge of your photograph and are now exploring the composition possibilities that come to mind. Use feet, books, boots, a hat, hair, eyes, and even the background elements to compose a variety of photographs: no two shots should be the same. Talk with the person as you shoot. Get to know the person’s background and personality. Soon they won’t be a subject anymore, but an interesting individual.
What would this person look like from a different angle? If you had taken all your shots so far from eye level and straight ahead, now take shots from the left and then right, from both high and low angles. Look for something to stand on, or even sit on your butt to get an especially low angle.
Now move in really close, to the shortest focal distance your lens with focus. Study the details on the subjects face. Concentrate on photographing a shot with just the eyes, nose, lips and hair and features of the face. At this close distance they are your material for a close-up. Remember to shoot both horizontal and vertical shots. Try to get your subjects hands in the photo, perhaps close to the face to frame it. By now you are working with you’re subject to get a character study, or what is called a personality portrait.
During this shooting exercise, you have been using the fifth element of EDFAT – time – in two ways: first as a series of shutter speeds to capture the action and second, as a span of time that allows you to explore in full details many visual possibilities of a single subject.
More importantly, you have introduced yourself to a way to be photographically perceptive.
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