Sunday, 6 March 2016

Prompts - The background in the image

The background in an image is important. Sometimes the background can say as much about the person as their clothing and their facial expressions, it's often a part of the narrative of the image.

Back in 1988 when I was studying photography I was interested in Stock Photography and I read a book (Title and author I can't recall) on the subject. One of the most Important things I learned from the book and still use today was a formula that can be used when you're shooting images for picture editors with the intention of securing sales. The formula - which I still teach is...

Person + background + involvement + symbol = picture

All of the components are important, but the background element is very important.

For example have a look at this image here of my son...

You're told "Go and take a picture of the 14 year old kid that took six wickets for 15 runs in an adults cricket match". You come round my house, you look around and you see this wall and you shoot this...

If we examine the image and start deconstructing it what can we see and what can we start making assumptions about if we analyse it? (See prompts in the side bar).
We're concerned with the background at the moment, but we can't ignore the rest of the image. What can we see...

  • He's a white westerner.
  • From the clothes and the haircut we can see that he's not destitute and that he's possibly either working class or middle class.
  • He's fairly tanned and the environment looks warm, so he probably lives in a temperate area of the world or warmer.
But can we say anything about the background? Well it's kind of fairly neutral as it's breeze block. Breeze block would be usually associated with basic forms of architecture, in my own experience - social/council housing as opposed to private estates or anything 'posh'. Looking closer there's no designer labels and he's wearing grey track-suit bottoms which kind of reinforce the 'Working class' assumption. But, there's nothing in this image that tells the cricket story, even though it is the kid in the story.

This image represents an improvement in that there's some visual clues although they're a little esoteric the style and colour of the shirt and the inclusion of the Slazenger brand name and logo indicates an association with a sport. If you have some knowledge of sport you might be able to recognise the kit as being related to cricket and the image combined with the text now makes a little more sense, but the plain wall doesn't.

This is the image your picture editor would liked for you to come back with if you couldn't get an action shot (Or a smiley version). The background in this image albeit still fairly esoteric would be recognisable immediately when combined with the text relating to story "14 year old boy takes 6 wickets for 15 in an adult crickets match" because of the detail on the background - the grass and the pavilion. The ball though is probably the clincher to the narrative as it's the 'Symbol'.

Could it have been improved even more? Could the background have been even more 'Crickety'?...
Something like this?

This image uses the formula mentioned earlier...

Person + background + involvement + symbol = picture.

Backgrounds therefore are important as they are integral to creating the narrative. You can simplify them and then make the narrative ambiguous.

Simple backgrounds e.g. a solid colour or black and white still have connotations that can be read and made sense of. Alternatively a simple background focuses the attention on the subject and in many instances the inclusion of the simple white, grey or black background is of little significance. But these colours can also be made sense of in complex ways -


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