Lessons from the Shot: Expressions


 by Stanley Leary

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A person’s expression can make or break a photograph.
Everyone recognizes and is affected by people’s expressions of being happy, sleepy, cheerful, silly...you get the idea.
Understanding how our feelings are translated into expressions, help us understand and capture these moments
You need to learn to look at people’s expressions and immediately be able to know how this makes you feel. Your reactions to other’s expressions help you understand the power of what they are communicating to the world through their expressions. One of the benefits of this exercise is realizing each of us is communicating how we feel to the world through our own expressions.
Once you have taken the time to realize what an expression communicates you then can ask what causes this expression. The answer to this question will help one to anticipate. What caused them to smile? This cause and effect helps you to know when you recognize those events, which get reactions—you need only point the camera in the right direction of the reaction and zoom in for a successful photograph.
When people open their birthday presents it is often those who bought the gifts will know if this was on the person’s wish list. Watching my daughter open her presents at he birthday and Christmas was easy to anticipate the expressions of joy.
Alfred Eisenstaedt, known to millions worldwide through his work at LIFE Magazine, made a famous photograph of children’s reactions to a puppet show. Today professional photographers are pointing their cameras as much to the reactions as the actions for story telling expressions.
Where are some of the best places to start with making great expression driven photos? I think special events where there are some obvious timeline scheduled events are the best places to start. Opening the presents we have already mentioned.  Another would be an audience reaction to a speaker.
Some of the funniest expressions are when people forget they are the center of the attention—like a children performances. Parents can capture great photos of their children during performances. But to capture the expressions you have to be close.
A good rule of thumb for being sure an expression is seen is to remember can you tell time by the size of the person’s face. There is a very practical reason we do not have wristwatches hanging on walls to tell time, with an equally good reason we don’t wear wall clocks on our wrists.
When you look at a wristwatch on your hand it is very close to your face. It’s almost the same size as the clock face on the wall across the room, when you hold your hand up with the wall clock in the background.
So if you want people to see the expressions get close. Great expressions only work if they have the “WOW” factor.  That’s achieved by the expression being large enough for people to see it.