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Photography: Aesthetics and Visual Communication

Image is everything…

As photographers we are taught a myriad of rules in order to capture well exposed and composed, basically pleasing images…eye candy…Is that all there is?

The question for me began as “what makes one visually pleasing, well composed, and properly lit image… out of so many other images… Memorable?” This question on it’s surface seems simple enough (duh). An interesting subject well light and nicely composed… Until you really delve into it.

   When I was nine I spent several weeks at the Louvre Museum in Paris (or if you prefer, musée du le Louvre…me wandering around Paris at the age of  nine is another story), I could only take in so much art after a while so I began to watch the people…watching art. I believe it was at this time my interest in the effects of imagery on people was sparked. Actually, in particular, it was the Mona Lisa. I sat and watched hordes of people stand and literally stare at this image for what seemed to me a ridiculously long time… I mean I just didn’t get it, the lady Leonardo Da Vinci painted wasn’t all that attractive… Looking at Leonardo’s masterpiece from the perspective of a photographer: if I entered a similar picture in a print competition I’d be cremated for poor composition, a lack of impact and bad lighting. None the less this image is by far the most recognizable and studied portrait the world around. Of course when you look at it from only the perspective of composition the one thing that is evident is that on that “magic line” is Mona Lisa’s smile.

Aesthetics… The Greeks seem to be the ones who started it all, or at least started to complicate it all…Well if not starting or complicating it they certainly demonstrated some thought put into it by their use of what mathematicians call “Phi”; artists, architects and graphic designers would call the “Golden Mean” or “Golden Ratio” which is stated as a 1 to 1.618 ratio. Photographers for the most part use a simplified striped down version of this method of composition that we call “the rule of thirds”, the reason being that even if you don’t understand the complexities of visual perception or the emotional and neuro-psychology behind it , just putting your subject in this part of the frame will produce a pleasing visual balance.

Now if I were reading this article up to this point I’d be wondering what I’m rambling about too.

Here is the point: (well kind of)

 Every Picture tells a story.

 How many times has the sentence been uttered “I’d have to show you” or “You would have to see it”.  Imagery is by far the most effective way of communicating. We see it everywhere. The world has become flooded with images: some selling products, some selling ideas. Visual Communication is now a complete field of study in the universities, it is dissected and analyzed, broken down to a formula, stylized, categorized and packaged. Me? I suppose I was destined to become a photographer (my mother was an impressionist  painter, my father a  beatnik on par with Jack Kerouac, and my dad – the man who actually raised me – an engineer of rockets, including the Apollo missions).

One of the biggest parts of my career as a photographer has been as a Headshot photographer. These images of actors and models are viewed specifically for the purpose of picking someone out of a stack of a lot of some ones. It is most important under these circumstances to have an image that gets its point across immediately and must also be memorable…in an aesthetically pleasing and honest way. It’s not enough to create a great image in this venue, the image must speak to the viewer.

While Many Photographers study things like Rembrandt’s lighting techniques in portraiture, Ansell Adams use of contrast and ways to present their “art”  ( I myself, cringe when I’m called an artist I prefer creative scientist). All of these things are important to photography and visual communication Composition, Exposure style and technique however we must remember the audience and the massage we are striving to convey with our imagery.

 I believe it is by far more subtle and illusive than this, something that can not be explained or taught, it has to be seen. As a professional photographer of people, I look at and carefully observe expressions both in posture and the face, the way people communicate emotion visually (I often have to apologize and explain my self, I have a habit of staring that apparently unnerves folks). I am drawn to Da Vinci’s work, a creative scientist as much as an artists. Looking at the world and finding ways to communicate what he observed.

For more information (and possible brain damage) about the Golden Mean see: