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Taking better pictures through keen observation

Updated: Feb 21

Our inquiry into how to take better pictures has to begin with asking ourselves how we define what is good. We are naturally bestowed with the ability to critique and select what appears the best. But why is it that we select some pictures and reject others ?


This happens as a result of our observing the work of other artists, painters, creators. We note prevailing trends and train the neural network inside our brain about patterns and trends. You will not see a person wear dark blue shirt over a dark green pant. Our brain was not tuned to accept that combination.


In this article let's look at the work of creative professionals and see if we can peep into their minds. Our goal will be to look at their work carefully, break it down into smaller elements to understand how it can be re-created. This is also known as first principals thinking. It is the best way to reverse-engineer complicated problems and unleash creative possibility.


Let's observe this video clip shot in Golkonda fort, Hyderabad carefully. After watching it, pause and ask your self what did you notice.



What did you like in this video ? What did the cinematographer do make it interesting ?

Let's review each scene one by one.


Scene 1 : Subject has been side lit. The light has a warm tone. Looks like an artificial light. The light is soft light and no harsh shadows.


Scene 2 : Natural window light is leveraged as a back light , sidelight & hair light.

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” – Ansel Adams



Scene 3 : Pink light is working as back light illuminating the back side of actors face and also as hair light for the across. Its not by chance that the actor is facing that direction. So in the first three seconds itself you see a pattern emerge. Lets explore further.


Scene 4 : Frame in Frame. Within the camera frame, there is another frame of window. Inside the window frame, the actress has been side lit from orange light from the left, we also see hair light from the top which is white in color. To separate the actress from the brick wall, they have added a low intensity light on the wall. The room is light be a night lamp to separate the subject sitting in the root from its background. Looks like a 5 light setup.




Scene 5 : Leveraging silhouette to create interest. What could be the reason behind including this scene in the song ? It is a different visual effect. The 3 minute song is packed with as many visual effects to captivate users.



Scene 6 : Rule of thirds. The top of Golkonda fort is placed by following rule of third. The protruding wall creates a diagonal line creating a sense of depth in the frame.



Scene 6 : Rule of thirds. Note that the face of the actor is placed exactly at the point which intersects the image in one third , both vertically as well as horizontally.



Scene 7 : Rule of third. You should know that viewers attention gravitates to the brightest and sharpest point in the scene. In the picture below your eyes will naturally gravitate to the white dress, whether you like it or not. The blurry and dark rock does not hold your attention. This simple principle is used while preparing corporate presentations , in product branding & advertisements , while separating a movie star from the pack of dancers behind him. Do you want everyone to look at you ? Go wear lemon yellow shirt over bright red pant, or reverse the combination. You will be irresistible and the talk of the town as well.



Scene 9 : Frame In Frame + Texture. The subject is asked to walk between two walls such that these walls make a rectangular frame with the cameras frame. Your eyes will naturally gravitate towards him as he placed at the brightest spot in the image.


Scene 10 : Rule of third. Again, we observe that the brightest object is placed strategically so that it follows the rule of third. Your eyes naturally gravitate toward that point.


Scene 11 : Rule of third. Diagonal line lead to the brightest element in the frame and conveys sense of depth.



Scene 12 : Both the foreground and background elements are placed such that they following the rule of third. Is it by chance that the hero is wearing a white dress ?



Scene 13 : Rule of thirds + Diagonal line. Notice how the camera has been tilted in the image below to create diagonal leading line which to guide your eye till the top of staircase. The lady is made to wear a bright dress to attract your eyeballs. Everything is intentional.


Scene 14 : Diagonal Lines have been used to divide the frame in equal half to create interest, the subject is side lit from right side and rule of third is also followed.


Scene 15 : Natural light as hair light / backlight


Scene 16 : Frame in frame. Subjects placed inside the frame in the dome.


Scene 17 : Crystals are used to create a frame inside cameras frame in the next image. These patterns will become so commonplace to your trained eye that eventually they will monotonous.


We saw that few patterns kept repeating. You might have noted that I kept observing the direction and nature of light. Photography literally means drawing with light ! The Greek word "Phos" means light and "Graphe" means drawing. You are painting on the sensor of your camera with light. And yes, did you notice that the editor kept changing scenes after every 3 seconds ? Go back and watch the view again and count when the scene changes. Our attention span is less than that of a gold fish. The fact that you have come this far is a proof that I have done a good job of engaging you. :-)


Now the next time you watch TV or a movie observe the work of cinematographers. You never know what they will teach you. I hope you found this article interesting.


Bye for now. Cheers !

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