Kevin McCallister wakes in the morning to find the house completely empty, “I made my family disappear” he whispers into the mirror before bursting into a half-joyous half-panicked rampage. Kevin from Home Alone faced a pretty tough challenge being left all alone to deal with a pretty huge problem for a kid and there is a lot we can learn from his McGuiver like resourcefulness when it comes to our photography. This tutorial aims to harness his creativity and give you a foolproof plan to get the most from every scene you capture, and it starts by putting down your camera and living it a little.
If you’ve not seen Home Alone a quick recap of the story goes a little like this. Kevin’s extended family are going on a huge overseas trip and all stay in the McCallister house the night before the flight. After a touch of sibling rivalry Kevin gets sent to sleep in the attic (it’s actually a bedroom) and Kevin wishes they would all just disappear. In the morning in the rush and chaos he is left behind and has free run of the house. The house is a mansion and is the target of a couple of clumsy robbers who set out on a mission to rob the house but rather than calling the Police, Kevin creates a series of booby-traps and diversions turning a home break-in attempt into a circus of laughs. You see, if Kevin had of just done the obvious and called the police it would all have been done and dusted but instead we are lead on a 115 minute rollercoaster of creativity. I think this completely parallels the way most of us approach a scene with our camera. We walk up to it and without taking in all of the amazing opportunities around us we raise the camera to our eye and immediately narrow our vision and eliminating all but the obvious. I don’t think this happens because we want it to be all done and dusted I think it happens for one of the following reasons:
1 – We are with someone who isn’t as patient so we feel the need to get-in and get-out
2 – The scene is overwhelming and with so many things going on we get caught up trying to capture it all
3 – We didn’t stop to really think about what we are trying to achieve before we shoot (reactive, not proactive)
Any one of those three options above lead to us photographing the obvious and by it’s very definition the obvious lacks creativity. So how can we overcome said obvious? We can start by following theses 4 steps:
1 - Stop and experience the scene
This means putting the camera down, ignoring that it is there and truly living for a second. It is about walking through the market once before photographing, standing on the coastline and looking out to sea with the salty wind breezing past, or taking a seat on a rock next to that waterfall to experience it’s pure power and intricate details.
2 - Decide what speaks to you
I’ve written before about good photo being like good books in that they have a defined story and purpose. After you’ve stopped and absorbed the atmosphere around you it’s time to focus in on exactly what you are trying to capture, this is made of 2 parts; a subject and it’s background. In the market place is it the character in a store-holders face with their wares hanging from the tent roof around them? Is it the power of the ocean waves crashing against the steadfast rocks? Is it that amazing cloud formation and the tranquil cottage on the hillside? If you stop and find the 2 things that best tell the story you are ready to move onto the next step.
3 - Use your eyes to line them up
We all know the rule of thirds? It’s a good place to start your composition and now that you have 2 definite objects/things (subject and foreground) it’s up to you to line them up and make them harmoniously work together. An easy way to start? Leave your camera pointing down and use your eyes first. Move around your key subject ducking and weaving like a (slow) boxer to change the perspective and relationship. Did you want to really exaggerate the subjects size? Move close to it and it will be bigger than the background, did you want to separate it off the skyline? Bob down lower until your subject jumps across the horizon. You get the drift.
4 - Pick up the camera
Now it’s time to choose the lens & settings that work best. Getting up close with wide angle lenses exaggerates a subject whilst a longer zoom lens brings the subject and background closer in size. From a settings perspective you know the mood and look you are trying to portray from step-one so you job is now to match the blurriness of the background or the crispness of the motion to suit the mood you were trying to capture. Now, it’s time to shoot!
Approaching your subject matter like Kevin’s Home Alone tactics truly does help to turn the ordinary into a story but it doesn’t stop there. To help refine your compositions from here I’m going to direct you a couple of previous tutorials on How to Eat the Elephant and What Ikea taught me about composition to really help get those creative juices flowing!
Enjoy team, and be sure to share this with someone who could use a little inspiration!
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