Saturday, 3 January 2009

The power of the image

Strange that the first thing I write on photography begins with an illustration – albeit a photo of one.

This image deserves attention for many reasons.

It is among the best examples in history of the illustration genre of imagery. Clean and simple, with powerful use of colour to capture shadow and detail.

And its use among political campaigning seems very fitting. As does the way this particular photograph captures the gritty hard work of the campaign trail.

But it is also a good place to start looking at what makes good photography. If I were to speak of some of the essential components of a good photo, portraiture would be a good place to start.

The eyes are on the top third. In fact, Barack’s eyes each sit on the intersection of the top horizontal third with each of the two vertical thirds.

(Draw an imaginary horizontal line, one third of the way down the picture, and another two thirds of the way down. Now draw vertical lines one third and two thirds of the way across the page. These are your thirds, and any photo is magically transformed if the focal point – or just the horizon or a figure or a line – lies on them. Especially on the intersections.)

Next, see the way he’s looking from left to right, tilting his head and looking into the picture. In fact, his left eye, sitting on the intersection of the top and right hand thirds, otherwise known as optical dead centre, is the point where one’s eye is drawn in the image.


We could dwell on the tight crop and shallow depth of field to make the background melt away, but that would be unnecessary, as the eyes have it.

PROGRESS and HOPE are both captured in Shepard Fairey’s iconic image. And this illustrator’s rise to even greater fame – let alone that of his subject – is well deserved.

Imagine what he could do with a camera.

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