So, photography is drawing with light. What we draw is what is visible, so the camera needs to see the subject.
It occured to me that what we want of the subject is the opposite of camouflage. Just as there is a list of things to consider in making something hidden, the same things must be aspects of visibility. So we can make a subject more visible by increasing one or more of the list.
The components of camouflage are:
- Speed or movement
- Shade or colour
I guess we can skip sound but the rest of these are ways of making something more (or less) visible. Silhouette is a shape against a lighter background, while shape is just a recognisable shape. The others are more obvious.
To take them in turn: think of a black cat against a black wall. You’d only see it if it smiled. Against a white wall it’s visibly a cat just by its outline. Think of the silhouette adverts that Apple ran for the iPod – was there any doubt what the shapes were or what they were doing?
Shape is probably what we see most often. Changing the shape of a subject through viewpoint can sometimes make it unrecognizable. Think of those ‘can you see what this is’ pictures. So the alternative would be to make the shape very visible and clear. Some shapes are so distinctive that you don’t need to see the whole object.
Shine is a good one. You must have seen adverts for cars or booze that use the shapes of the highlights or shine on the curves and surfaces to show the shape of something. Shiny things will outline themselves if you light them well. There is a Greg Heisler portrait of Luis Sarria that uses the shine and sheen of his skin to make his face and hands visible. There is no background, no context, just this amazing portrait.
The opposite of using a reflection or highlight to reveal a subject would be to use the shadows to shape it. Think of high key portraits where a few shadows shape the rest. Or perhaps how butterfly lighting reveals the nose with a single small shadow.
With movement, think how panning can freeze and isolate an object against a blurred background. Or perhaps how a long exposure can reveal the scene behind the cars or pedestrians.
Colour should be obvious, but less so to those of us who shoot black and white. This is where filters or film choice matter. A green hill against a blue sky could be rendered as a grey mush. Or you could use a red or green filter or either ortho film or one with extended red sensitivity. For colour choices you have the whole colour wheel to go at. If you want to know why you should care, read the analysis of colours in a cinema film here. All that, for something I thought was just the background.
So there you go – six ways to change the visibility of your subject. Or, I suppose, if you follow the instructions and not their opposite, to hide from the paparazzi.