October 2008

I was looking through online photo galleries following the campaigns of Presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain and found these two interesting photos from earlier in the the year of rallies for Obama. I find that these two photos incorporate interesting viewpoints, depths of field, and graphical elements to convey very similar messages and capture powerful moments.

In class, we discussed the importance of hands and how they convey deeply human messages to the viewer. In the first photo, Obama is greeting his supporters with handshakes. The outstretched hands attempting to touch Obama convey to the viewer a sense of urgency and need to be a part of Obama’s crusade for change. The viewer becomes a participant in the photo due to the perspective; the photographer was on the ground level with Obama supporters, allowing the viewer of the photo to experience the moment from a similar perspective as those actually in attendance of the rally. The camera angle also creates symbollism by looking up at Obama as if he were a hero.

The second photo of the crowd at Obama’s Berlin speech in July creates a different mood and feeling for the viewer. The photographer was obviously far away from the subject, and located above the stage upon which Obama is standing. The hands in this photo are not visible individually, however the pattern of cheering hands and claps in the crowd convey the sense of unified support conveyed through the first photo. Obama’s body language is completely different than in the first; rather than bending toward his supporters to make himself accessible to the common man, Obama is clearly on stage in front of a great mass of people and is commanding their attention as he points off frame to an abstract ideal. The distance between photographer and subject, however, diminishes a difference in scale between Obama and his supporters; he appears to be almost the same size and thus still conveys the sense of sameness between he and his supporters as seen in the first photo.

These moments were not staged, but they weren’t accidents either. From reading the Kobre textbook and experimenting with photography myself, I know that the photographers in each situation conducted preliminary searches of the environment to identify innovative and useful shooting locations and angles. The photographer in the second photo discovered a high, far off location from which to take photos; he or she predicted that this would be useful because of the anticipated size of the crowd. A photo from this distance with a small crowd in front of Obama would not have the same effect or emphasis as this image has. The same can be said for the first photo; the photographer saw an interesting photo opportunity in the form of the stage’s catwalk-like extension into the crowd. The stage extension was constructed so that Obama could interact with his supporters and the photographer anticipated this behavior by first examining and experimenting with the environment before the scheduled rally began.


The flash experiments and flash assignment were, excuse the pun, “illuminating.” The technique of bouncing the strobe off of the cieling, a wall, posterboard, etc. was really interesting and created neat diffusions of light. It was simple to create side lighting and Rembrandt lighting in a controlled environment; the windowlight portrait assignment got me thinking about light sources, and this assignment introduced the element of control.

I had some difficulty matching the flash exposure with that of the camera, resulting in a lot of over and under exposed images. I did attempt a few times to make the background one stop darker than the foreground as we discussed in class by adjusting the flash exposure controls. The experimenting and flash assignment taught me that I greatly appreciate natural lighting of the setting!!

The light painting was really interesting; I had my subject, Amanda, use a number of different lights that we found. A glow-in-the-dark ring with a pulsating light inside produced some interesting effects that were similar to a flickering candle flame. The ring did something unexpected: the light registered on “film” about 3 inches lower than where Amanda physically held it. I don’t know the reason for this, i can only guess that the light changed hues so quickly that the beams were most constant and registered fully as they were projected out from the ring rather than at the location of the ring itself. In the example photo of this, Amanda first held the ring on her chin so the light could register on the camera, and then i took a flash photo of her once she’d removed her hands and the ring from inside the frame. The light is obviously below her chin.

Martha Expressing Herself

Martha Expressing Herself

This was definitely a learning assignment for me! The criteria of in-focus eyes was difficult to get perfectly; zooming in on the eyes and using manual focus was the most useful technique. On the first few shots I used auto focus, which changed with each photo I took. Outside of the focus, I was very conscious of the lighting.

In class we discussed Rembrandt lighting as being the best, with under lighting and head on lighting as the two worst. As i was very interested in capturing Martha’s (my subject’s) “essence” as a performer, jokester and comedian, her natural move from sitting upright to hanging upside down off of the bed seemed like an interesting way to position her. I was concerned, however, because the lighting was now lighting her “from below”; thus, in many of the photos there are dark shaddows under her eyes and on her chin. Because the portrait assignment also concerned capturing an interesting mood, I felt the “below lighting” on my upside-down model was less important to the image’s message than the facial expression and body language.

In addition to my concerns about light direction, i was also concerned about over exposure of Martha’s pale skin; there are hotspots in most of my images. I experimented with exposure compensation to underexpose the photo, and also experimented with the exposure controls when editing the RAW images. To help diffuse the harsh lighting in the room, I placed a blanket over the window. Unfortunately Martha is ghostly pale, and her skin still produced some hotspots on the images.