Go on! You know it is good for you! Let’s have a laugh! This article is about using humor in photography.
This article is not so much Five Handy Tips, as it is more a case of Three Gentle Nudges. Maybe you are like me and can be a bit too serious about your photography. I am suggesting that you let go a little. Even one photograph which makes you smile has got to be worth letting go, relaxing a little. It may be that it is only you who is caused to smile, but I absolutely think that is worth it on its own. Then again, you might make tens, hundreds, even thousands of others smile. That has got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?
1. It is not that funny
Please notice that above that I said smile, I did not say laugh.
I once asked the teenage daughter of a friend of mine why she liked a particular teacher. She said that the teacher was funny. She gave the example that he would lean against the board, put a piece of chalk in his mouth, and pretend to smoke it as if it were a cigarette. Even 20 years ago, this was a bit dodgy, but the thing which really struck me was … it was NOT that funny! Mildly amusing, worth a smile, but not really what you would call funny.
That may be the first lesson which we need to learn in respect to seeking humor in photography. It is unlikely that you will ever, in your whole life, take a photograph which is going to cause people to roll on the floor, kick their legs in the air, and clutch their ribs with laughter. You will have done very well, to even cause a mild chuckle.
Much more likely is that you will raise a smile. But, frankly, that is enough. I think you should relax about it and be happy to raise one single smile. Surely, if you manage to make just one other person smile, that is a good thing.
2. The great snapshot!
Though I have admitted above that I can be too serious about photography, I have long been a strong advocate of the snapshot. That is a photograph, taken quickly, with little premeditation, with no great artistic pretensions, with any camera which is at hand.
If you have a daughter, it is very likely that you have an image like one the above. I wonder, though, is that image in your mind, or did you actually take the photo? Whether it is your big “proper” camera, your phone, or pocket camera, I would encourage you to abandon all other thoughts. Just get on with it, and take that snapshot.
I would have thought that the above meets most peoples’ definition of a snapshot. It certainly lacks any artistic pretentions. But, a pink Lamborghini has got to be something which makes most people smile, even if they have very little interest in cars.
The fact that it is parked in handicapped reserved parking is only funny because the evidence would seem to be that there was, in fact, plenty of parking available. The whole thing is also somewhat of a reflection of the culture of the location in which it was taken.
Listen to Wayne
One of my favorite quotations was born in ice hockey, but very applicable to photography.
I think this is a good thought to have in your mind for any type of photography. It is especially pertinent in respect of these type of snapshot photographs. Just for a moment, abandon your aspirations as a serious photographer, and simply take the shot. There is almost zero chance of any downside, no negative consequences, and you might just manage to create an extra smile or two in the world.
3. No thinking here, please
This is an extension of the above point. It is consistent with saying, “take the shot”. However, can I urge you further in that direction?
Do not question the process of taking the photograph in any way at all, please. Don’t think about it, just point the camera and push the button. I think we are in the territory of sports again, and the Nike slogan “Just do it” applies here. Take the shot. (Is anybody else hearing Judi Dench as M, from a recent James Bond film, or is it just me?).
You should not overthink it. If you see something which pricks your interest even slightly, which even starts to elicit a smile … raise the camera and take the shot. You don’t know why it might be funny, you do not even know for sure that it is funny. Again, my advice to you would be, take the shot.
Just enjoy it
I took the above photograph a few years ago, in Malaysian Borneo. It is not printed and displayed on my wall, nor is it of great importance to me. But it does pop its little head up now and then, and when it does, it makes me smile. Does it make you smile at all? If so, why does it make you smile?
It makes me smile because of what I assume is the obvious reason, the irony of telling people to walk by means of a notice on a motorbike. That is why I took the shot. Years later, I realized that it is also the declamatory nature of the exclamation mark which makes me smile. You are not being asked, you are being told to walk, by someone from the comfort of sitting on a motorbike.
Yes, of course, in this context, “walk with” has a different meaning, but you should not worry too much about letting the facts get in the way of a bit of humor, should you?
I did not think about anything like all of the above as I was taking these photographs. As I suggest, if you see something which even makes you think about smiling – photograph it! It is not likely to be that funny anyway, the humor might only fully reveal itself later, so take the shot, it’s only a digital file.
I would like to talk about unguarded moments, juxtapositions, discovered photographs, constructed photographs, kids, smiles eliciting smiles, distortions of reality, and the strange things people do. But for now, can you please just take this article as a firm nudge to be open to possibilities.
- Do not worry about trying to be funny. It is unlikely that you will take a photograph which will actually make people literally LOL (Laugh Out Loud, just in case anyone is not sure).
- Stop being a serious photographer for a moment. It is a snapshot!
- Take the shot! Do not think about it for one millisecond, just do it.
Go on! Have a go! I hope you have been nudged in the right direction. I don’t think I am alone in wanting to see something of a humorous nature from you. Please share your humorous images in the comments below.
Editor’s note: keep it clean, please. No nude or partial nude photos, or images which are disparaging, disrespectful, or hurtful to any other person.