Do your images pass the ADHD test?
Okay, maybe not every image – but the ones we like best – just gotta pass the ADHD test. What does that mean? Simply put, you just can’t have distracting elements in your photographs. They take away from the subject causing the subject to lose the spotlight which then makes the picture less pleasing to the human eye. Sigh. That’s just not good.
So what do you do?
Here’s the bad news: nothing will ever stop you from needing to be a photo director. In order to create photographs with impact, you just have to always be on the lookout for what’s going on in front of the lens. There’s nothing more distracting to a photograph than a busy background. This is especially true if people are the subject of your image.
We call pictures of people “portraits”. A portrait has a specific function and that is to be a representation of an individual person. When we say “smile” and push that shutter, we want to capture a likeness and something of who the person is. So the best portrait is one that not only captures the subject’s physical appearance but also captures some essence of who that person is.
Help the portrait do its job
In our example portrait, we have a picture of a little boy doing his best Go, Dog Go! recreation. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Go, Dog Go! was my favorite bedtime story book as a kid. (It was published in 1961, written and illustrated by P.D. Eastman.)
In the image on the left, our little Go, Dog Go! boy has a black pole that seems to be jutting directly out of his head. I can almost ignore it, if I try really hard. But it’s a major distraction for me. A quick trip into Photoshop and voila! the pole is history.
Now when I look at the photo, all I see is an adorable little boy (his physical appearance) who is fun-loving and obviously well read (his essence). We’ve just helped our portrait do its job.
Composing and Cropping for arresting visuals
The photos that catch our eye most are those where the main subject takes up a significant portion of the photograph. In this case the 80/20 rule is a good one to rely on. Especially true in capturing people, if 80% of your image is your human subject, then your image stands out and is visually arresting. Anytime your subject reaches less than 20% of the viewing area, you are confusing your viewer who may come to the conclusion that the surrounding area is the main focal point of your image. In other words, if, like me, your viewer has ADHD, the impact you’re trying to have will be lost.
Take a look at this image. On the left, we’re looking at park equipment on a partly cloudy day. And that’s because our original image violates the 80/20 rule. But, with a little cropping, we get the picture on the right, and that’s a picture that any mother can love!
Your eye naturally wanders
The human eye is conditioned to be drawn toward bright colors. So unnatural highlights like the sky over our boys’ heads, and even the sun glinting off of our littlest guy’s right arm, become distractions. They’re brightness problems we probably want to fix. In this case, cropping not only eliminated a brightness problem it also helped to drag our image into compliance with the 80/20 principle. Before printing, we may want to use Photoshop to tone down the sun glare on his arm and face.
You have to capture the data in order to have the data
In the digital age, bright spots like these mean that the camera was unable to capture any actual data in those areas, they’re pixels with no missiles. Essentially that means that even adding density to the picture won’t solve the problem, it will merely darken the image. But in Photoshop, you can tone down the hot spots. Just be careful not to overdo it. We don’t want our adorable little guys looking like aliens.
Now that you’re a photo director, you’ll catch it in the lens
But that’s what being a photo director means: finding the angle that avoids the sun, watching out for distracting background elements, stepping closer to your human subjects when needed, and then churning out great images without the need to edit them.
We still need to cover posing…and depth of field…and clutter….and clothing…and leading lines…and the rule of thirds…and the golden ration…and well the list just goes on and on. But you’re on your way to becoming a photo director which means you’ll have the shots family and friends want to see.
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