• Donald Simpson

Improving Photography Through Gesture

Gesture is everywhere if we learn to see deeply enough. It's that subtle something in your photography that warrants a viewer's second look. It holds their attention. Let's spend a few minutes trying to explain it.

This was not done with "Photoshop Tricks". The weight of this flower appears balanced on a single dead blossom on the edge of a table. That's what people see. They ask, "How is that possible?" Even that very subtle gesture will cause them to re-look at it. Of course the title "Balanced" helps just a bit. This is exactly what I wanted viewers to do. By the way this photo was not taken with a DSLR but rather using Scannography.

I learned about "Gesture" in photography from one of my heroes, Jay Maisel, in his book entitled "Light, Gesture, Color". I have been noticing over the past couple of years that most pros refer to that special something as Gesture as well.

I learned a lot from this book and then started to see the world differently. I needed to slow down and learn to see not just look. Suddenly my photographs said so much more.

A great friend of mine, as well as a great photographer, Wes Odell, retold the remark made by a PhotoCurator and Judge. "Whenever I judge photographs, I have to remind myself to ask: Is this a photo of a beautiful subject or is it a beautiful photograph?"

This is an example of a photo of a beautiful subject (giraffe in a natural environment).

This would serve as a good example of a beautiful photo (gesture steals the show)

It will pay you great dividends to learn the difference between "Form" and "Content".

Form is best described as lines, shapes, colors, textures, space, composition, etc. and is generally found in all photographs.

Content is something different. It includes subject matter, interpretation, intended meaning and what it communicates to the viewer.

Gesture contains form like all photographs but also contains content.

Ernst Haas once said, "that we do not take pictures, we are taken by pictures."

You must remain open to both content and form. You'll find it if you are patient and look at scenes differently. Also start to become more aware of living subjects' behaviors because that may be where you find GESTURE. Gesture remains in a photo no matter what happens to form.

Staying with our giraffe theme for just a couple of minutes. When I arrived upon this scene there 3 giraffes walking in a line. I decided to compose my scene and take a couple of test shots just to be certain I nailed focus and exposure. They spotted me a minute or two later and I pointed my camera and said to myself "WAIT" then suddenly one giraffe stopped and in a flash so did the other two and then they all looked at me "SNAP". Amazing to see how the patterns blended together and pretty soon I thought I had just created an eight-legged, two-headed giraffe. GESTURE

Take a look at the photo below of a tuba player. I was aimlessly walking through the back streets of London where it looked a bit sketchy. But then I heard these unexpected sounds of a tuba playing a solo with some orchestral music. So I moved rather quickly to see what this was all about. So in this somewhat sketchy place as a tuba player dressed impeccably playing some delightful music. I took a couple of quick photos and continued to listen to just how good he really was. When all of a sudden this fire came bellowing out of the horn of the tuba. And it was even keeping time to the music. Because I had taken a couple of random shots I already knew I was at the correct exposure. So I took a few quick shots and GESTURE was surely in those pictures that day. What made it even more special is that I played the tuba years ago.

Birds are great subjects if you are looking for ways to find GESTURE in wildlife. They do so many comical things and their behaviors can be somewhat predictable. I was out shooting hummingbirds one day and noticed that if two birds were trying to get to the feeder at the same time there was most certainly going to be a disagreement. So I pre-focused where these actions generally were taking place and it didn't take long before I rapid fired these two and got a couple of terrific shots. GESTURE is what is teaching me to slow down and really see.

On a trip to Paris one year I needed to get to the Eiffel Tower early one morning to catch a tour bus. So I packed up my camera equipment and when I arrived I saw this wedding couple all dressed up for the festivities. Then I noticed there was a camera on a tripod and a flash going off periodically. They were doing marriage selfies on an overlook to see the Eiffel Tower. I walked a few steps, composed the shot and captured an unusual remembrance of Paris. I am always open to what might happen as I move about because GESTURE has taught me that lesson.

Gesture can be found everywhere. Spend the time to look more deeply from different perspectives and compositions. Be sure to wait for those special moments. It is not only people and animals that have Gesture. You can find it in trees, flowers, water, still life, tables, chairs, shadows, architecture and so much more.

I was on a riverboat cruise on the Moselle River in Germany a few years ago. We were sitting on the roof deck admiring the sunset that was beginning to unfold. The problem was that there was no interesting elements between us and the horizon. So I went up to the bow of the ship and saw what I thought was a commercial site, perhaps one that did some form of stone crushing. I hurried back to my original position and waited patiently for it to line up with the sunset. Gesture arrived.

Many of us around Central Texas (Schulenburg area) are aware of the famous Painted Churches. They are incredible works of art with a fascinating history and interesting insights into the culture. On this day the light, the sky and the church were perfect. What was it I needed to happen to complete the scene. Just then a breeze came up and I instantly knew Gesture entered the scene.

Gesture can be the element that tells the story and/or evokes a feeling. It can keep viewers in front of your photo bringing back memories of events and feelings from their own life. Take the time and make sure they see it.

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