Best Photography Tip: Capture an Equal and Opposite Reaction
The best photograph you’ve never taken may be happening behind you. That wonderful scene you’re pointing your camera at may be the second best thing to photograph within eye sight. Look at the photograph to the left: most photographers would try to show the baby’s face in this situation. There will be plenty of other opportunities later to show the baby, but relatives meet the newborn only once.
What’s a better photograph–the guy scoring the touchdown or the fans going wild? An athlete dramatically winning a game at the buzzer is the subject of countless great photos and there are tons of wonderful fan jubilation photos out there so the answer is clearly that both situations are loaded with potential. But as the excitement and cheering of a game peaks it is an unusual photographer who will ignore the action, turn around, and point the camera at the reaction.
I am certainly not suggesting that turning your back on a leaping ballerina to photograph a cheering audience is always the best thing to do, but part of being a good photographer is to consider everything that’s happening as a possible photograph. Great photography is an exercise in concentrated observation. Keep yourself open to the possibilities.
Easier said than done, believe me.
But sometimes the obvious thing to photograph–the action–isn't as great as the action behind the viewfinder. For whatever reason, the guy getting a pie thrown in his face doesn’t work photographically. Maybe there’s a bad background or the light is weird. It should be great – hey, the guy’s getting a pie in the face – but it just isn’t. That is a great time to look for something else. Look for a reaction.
Reactions come in every emotional flavor. Laughter and tears and joy and boredom and anger and fear and excitement and passion and bewilderment can all make for great photographs. As a photographer (and a human being, for that matter) the natural inclination is to pay attention to the source of the hubbub – everyone looks when a fire truck roars by. But it’s good solid photographic thinking to keep an eye on the fringe of an event… on the reactions of onlookers.
Some reactions can be anticipated. When the best man is toasting the bride and groom and he’s telling an anecdote about what a slob the groom was in college you know there’s some kind of punch line coming. After you’ve got a decent shot of the best man look around the room to see who’s really involved in the story. Find a face that getting ready to explode with laughter. (In my family that would be my mother. She’s such an easy laugh, but that’s another story.)
One approach to photography is to ask yourself what most photographers would do in this situation (they would likely photograph the action) and then do something else (you photograph the reaction). In any case, the first idea that comes into your head is not always the best. Keep thinking. Keep looking.
And of course, photographing action and reaction are not mutually exclusive.
They look so good together on a single page in a photo album that you may want to have your camera ready to photograph the inevitable great reaction.