Wick Communications

Tilt the shoulders

In Photography on December 15, 2011 at 12:29 pm

We are always looking for tips to take better photos. Last week, Pierre Capital Journal Managing Editor Lance Nixon shared one with other Wick editors as part of a conference call organized by Group Leader David Lewis. We all agreed it was both simple and effective and who doesn’t love that? I asked him if I could share his written presentation on Kicker and he agreed. Here’s Lance… — Clay

Photographers gave me many tips on how to take better photos when I was a reporter – fill the frame, put your points of interest where the lines would cross if your photo were a tic-tac-toe grid, follow the rule of thirds.

But one photographer later added a tip I hadn’t heard previously, and it’s one I use every day when photographing people: Tilt the shoulders of your subject so that the person in the foreground leads you deeper into the image (ideally, to something interesting in the background).

Maybe most people learn this rule starting out, but I learned it only after years in the business. Justin Joiner in our shop had a similar experience; he didn’t learn this technique in journalism school, but from an old pro in one of the newsrooms where he worked. That’s why I offer it here as one simple technique to improve photos. …

I think this is effective in more than one way.

  1.  It helps recreate the illusion of depth of field on what is really a flat surface.
  2. I also think it makes the photographer look more closely at what he or she is photographing, including in the background, and so do a better job of composing the shot.
  3.  I think it lends itself naturally to the rule of dividing your photograph into thirds, because it makes you keep in mind what you want the viewer to look at in addition to the figure in the foreground … so you leave room for the information in the rest of the photo.

Especially on environmental portraits, where my main object is to photograph one of my key sources in a way that helps tell the story, just thinking about what’s deeper inside the picture can help add interest to the photo.

For example, it makes me wait for someone in the food bank warehouse to appear on the floor below, or it makes me position a portrait of the plant manager of a bird seed company where I can get a couple of his employees stacking seed in the background.

The photographer who first coached me to do this always said to tilt the shoulders at a 45-degree angle, but I think the degree of the angle isn’t the main thing — the point is simply to angle the shoulders in such a way that the eye moves naturally to some other deeper point of interest, whether it’s the wind turbine in the background or the dinosaur in the science museum. Another reason to use this technique is that it probably creates a more flattering portrait if your subject is a bit stocky.

One added note: the photographer who taught me this technique, John Davis of the Aberdeen American News in South Dakota, works in what is really quite a slow news town. I’ve come to think that this technique of his is one thing that helps him make interesting portraits of people in stories where there might not be a great deal of action to illustrate. But even where we might have a more active photo, I often shoot an environmental portrait as supplemental art, as with the coal photo here.

Lance Nixon

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  1. I printed this one for the entire newsroom. Great tip!!!!

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