Monday, February 8, 2010

February 4th: The Mona Lisa?

There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.  --Ansel Adams
    I italicized the 'two' because if you apply it to portraits it should read 'at least two'. Unless it's a self-portrait you'd have to include the person getting their portrait done.

"The Mona Lisa?" you ask skeptically, "Really? What does that have to do with photography?"

Digging into the cobwebs of my mind and dusting of the recollections of my Art History classes, the Mona Lisa was a 1500's painting that rocked the world for portraitures. She set a new standard. Before her time, 1300 and 1400 paintings were detailed, stiff, rigid, mostly profiles and full length. Mona, shall we call her, brought us close up, intimate, personal, in your face! Gone were the minute details of the background, things took on a haze, a blur, in photography, Leonardo opened up his aperture. The colors of the background and her clothing are muted not to distract from the subject, 'beautious' Mona. There has been an unending debate (the last I knew anyway) about the unmatching halves.  Check them out. Is it a river, an upper lake, and how would they work together?

Now, check out her composition. She has been set in 'pyramid form'. Her hands are light and cross just off center, her elbow going out and up slightly. From there everything angles to the top of her head. This was a revelation in composition.

                               mona lisa painting

So what can we take to photography from Mona?

1. The pyramid can work for portraits.
2. Fill your frame, keep your subject intimate at eye level and turn the body away from the camera.
3. Backgrounds can greatly enhance or detract. Pay attention to them.
4.  Keep clothing and things around the subject subtle.

This picture of Phoebe is a similar pose Though not angled enough, her hands and position carry off the same type of compositon.

This is an example of 'blurring' your background. You would want to use Aperture Priority in the Basic Zone Modes of your camera or AV if you have Canon brand. You would then set the aperture wanting a large opening. If I was using my big white lens I'd put it at f2.8. That lets in a lot of light and therefore blurs the background. This pic is the Mona Lisa of chess. The pawn is in focus and the background is fuzzy.

Here everything is focused. We would be pre-Mona Lisa in the art world. You see all the details. With the camera you are still using AV mode but you are setting your aperture very small, an f22 would be good. "But that is a large number," you say. Yes. Aperture function is opposite. The smaller the number the Bigger the opening. The bigger the number the Smaller the opening. Less light=larger depth of field.

Assignment: Try some Mona Lisa type shots. Blur your background. Send them in. Have fun.

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