In late October I was invited by Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights to lead a workshop for Plymouth Church School teachers to improve the photographs they use to illustrate their classroom blogs. After a few weeks of the teachers putting the techniques they learned into practice, I was asked to critique the photos. Here I share my comments with the teachers and all my other blog readers. I hope we can all learn from it. (All photos are taken from the Plymouth Church School blogs and are copyrighted by the respective photographers.)
Plymouth Church School Teachers: Great Job! Your photos capture a wonderful sense of learning and fun, and regardless of any technical or compositional aspects, that’s what it should be about.
We discussed that the photographer’s viewpoint can influence how the subject is perceived. Shooting from above minimizes the subject, shooting from below makes the subject seem more important, and shooting at the subject’s level forges a more engaging relationship between the subject and the viewer. It’s this last view that I encouraged you to take when photographing children. It’s more work to kneel or sit on the floor to get a photo, but the payoff is worth it. The three photos above are good examples. The first two photos could have been framed higher, minimizing the foreground and placing more emphasis on the subject. In the first, it would have been good to see the interaction between the teacher and the child in addition to what they are both pointing at. However, both hands pointing in toward the center of the photo focuses the attention really well, telling a dynamic story. The second photo is a good example of my suggestion to shoot close at a wide angle. The third photo is great because the subject is off center, which is one of the other principles we learned to achieve.
In this photo, the angle of view is lower, the photographer is shooting up at the subjects. It’s very effective in this case, making the children seem to dominate the volcano. Since they are looking down at the volcano, we can see into their eyes, which always makes a better photo. The sidelighting from window gives the scene dimension, and the highlight it creates on the cup draws our attention to the action of pouring the liquid. The only thing that could have improved this photo is to have shot it from slightly farther back (or at a wider angle), so as not to cut off the girl on the right, especially as she’s the one doing the pouring.
In the three photos above, the bird’s eye view doesn’t work so well. The subjects of the photos are the tops of the children’s heads. In the first photo, imagine how much more engaging it would be if the photographer were right there, peering into the fishbowl with the children. It would bring the viewer into the scene with them, and I think it would be great to see one of the children’s faces distorted through the water. Remember, the purpose of the photos on your blogs is to bring readers into the classroom, not so much to make them feel like an outsider just observing. In the third photo, the photographer’s aim seems to be documenting the art the children are creating, but the high angle leaves the children on the periphery. Shooting at the children’s level would focus attention more on the children than the art, though you’d still be able to see the art. This would tell a more compelling story about the making of the art.
However, there are plenty of times when a high angle of view can work, as in the three photos above. This angle is particularly good for groups. In the first photo, had the photographer been on the floor with the children, we would have seen only the first row, obscuring all the children behind. In the second photo, the higher angle gives dimension to the box the children are painting; taken at the children’s level, all we would see is a red rectangle. The third photo includes all the children and the teacher, and you can see many faces; again, this is a good use of a higher angle to photograph a group.
Most of the photos on the blogs are candid. For variety, try to get some more that are posed. When posing the photo, you have more control over telling the story as you want it instead of letting the story tell itself. Just be honest, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Posing your subjects gives you time to consciously make the photo instead of trying to grab an instant and hope you got it. It also gives you time to consider the background and make changes if necessary. Remember we discussed the photo where it looked like a man’s head was impaled by a flagpole? Look at the first photo above. It looks like the children are holding up the picture of the whale!
The three photos above are good examples of vertical shots. Remember, I suggested turning the camera every now and then to get a vertical photo since we see very few of them, and they add variety and interest. Shooting vertically is particularly good for vertical subjects (standing boy in the first photo) and for individual portraits (boy in the third photo).
And now for some random photos I like:
Good use of vertical framing. Even though I can’t see the boy’s eyes, I can feel the intensity of his drawing. I like the contrast between the spread of his fingers on the left hand and the tight holding of the pencil in the right hand. And the steadiness of the left hand highlights the blur of the right hand, so you can tell he’s actively drawing.
Another good use of vertical framing. While the angle is high, the boy is looking into the camera. The fact that the other children have their backs to the camera separates them so while there are multiple children in the shot, the story is about only the one kid with the rake.
Great use of an extreme bird’s eye view. It would have been good to see all of the children by shooting at a wider angle or getting farther away (standing on a chair, perhaps), but I understand that may not have been possible.
Keep up the good work! I hope you’re having fun with this. Get together every now and then for your own critique sessions where you can share what you like about each other’s photos and what you think can be improved. It’s often hard to evaluate your own work, and constructive critique from others helps you grow as a photographer, both from giving it and receiving it. And please subscribe to or visit my blog often at https://closecrop.wordpress.com. I hope you will continue to learn from my posts.