More On Camera Awareness

Actually it's viewer awareness of camera awareness we're really talking about, which is connected to subject awareness. Lots of things affect that including actual subject camera awareness, comfort level, expression, and especially eye contact.

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I while ago before I figured out I was actually on a side project, I wrote a short piece about camera awareness. I'm not at all settled on what I want for the main Black/White project that I'm still playing with approach for but for the Fragments side project I do know exactly what I want. In general I want an impression of my collaborators being camera un-aware. In general that is, with a sudden flash of camera awareness and eye-contact. Harder than one might think. Almost impossible the first time you work with someone and are just getting comfortable with each other.

Take a look at these first two pictures. They are worlds apart in feel. Almost everything is identical. Facial muscle tension, hand gesture, overall musculature there's only one difference — They eye contact, even facial position, angle all of it the same and very different than eye's open but pointed away or somewhere else.

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One of those things where you as well as the person in front of the lens have a huge influence. Choice on your part plays a bigger role than one might imagine. Sure a small camera like the Fuji X series cameras help a lot in giving you more choices. Ultimately when you decide to release the shutter is a gigantic part.

So let's talk about choices a bit. All this came up due to an email conversation I had based on that last post I referenced above. The conversation boiled down to a "how to" kind of thing at the end of it but I never think of anything as a "how to". For some reason I despise recipes and look at everything as an exception — just my nature I guess.

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Let's get down to it then. All of us humans, even if completely unable to articulate the why of things or the how or even smash things into tiny atomic particles of what makes up what are unbelievably good at reading things other humans are putting out non verbally. In pictures a few of those things will show through, actually a lot of them but let's break this down into some sort of recipe for anyone that hasn't played with any of this stuff before.

  • Eye contact, dead give away of camera awareness. No rules but dead giveaway with a few exceptions. Those would be some sort of disguised surveillance camera and even then the subject in most still frames would still give that impression. Eye contact is not "general" in any sense. It's not almost. Try it, have someone look right past you. Literally something that is behind your head and now have them look directly into the lens huge difference that may even be hard to measure with a micrometer but night/day in you know it.
  • Eyes closed, in almost all cases this will give the impression of complete camera unawareness even with significant differences in facial muscular tension, expression, gesture, etc. Almost all. I've included a bunch of variations on those factors for your evaluation. Want camera unawareness conveyed, have someone close their eyes. Ps. In most cases this may also tend to relax a ton of muscles, especially in the face. Having a difficult time with facial tension, try it. It's effect usually lasts even when they open their eyes.
  • What about the other options. Looking off into space vs looking at something will feel very different, try it. I swear it will. Do this, tell whoever is in front of your camera next to look in a direction, just a direction where there's nothing of interest hopefully. Now have them look at something very specific and use the NAME of the thing instead of a general direction.
  • People in front of the camera that are looking at themselves in some way imply self-consciousness a bit of a different feel. Almost always but that has a lot to do with gesture and expression as well.

Aside

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Let's talk a bit about gesture, expression, and specifically they way muscles react to things. If you put or have your collaborator put any muscle under tension almost all of the rest follow. I put a few illustrations here to sample various flavors. It's a very large spectrum to play with and more than you might think it's your choice. More accurately you have an amazing amount of influence at every point. Words count a lot. For instance, touch vs. grab. Huge difference there right? Try it.

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Even take the touch vs. grab thing. Releasing the shutter at the beginning, middle and especially the trailing end where there's a ton of variation in a short span are amazingly different. Same goes for all of it. Direction and when you choose the moment are huge. It's not just your direction it's when you choose to release the shutter. Think of all direction as a flow from one point to another with all the variations in between as opportunity.

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Oh, crap this isn't really a recipe. Sorry, don't do those. How can I? I have no idea what you want to make do I? Okay back to the regularly schedule non-aside. Let' talk briefly about manipulating your viewer a bit. Remember that thing I said about your collaborator looking somewhere else? Humans are amazing, that's where your viewers eye will want very badly to go. So do you want it to go there? Up to you. Is there anything in the frame there? That's tricky if there's not but playing with space especially negative space will stop that and keep your viewer contained to where you want them to look. Be very careful with this. A lot of portrait photographers are eye-contact-only kinds of photographers because it is tricky. Fashion photographers can also be one trick ponies in doing the same thing that works for them in restraining viewer's attention and eye movement. Play with it and don't get discouraged. Seriously play with it.

Okay, okay, here's a trick if you want a recipe that won't epic fail. Just have the person look at them selves. As long whatever that is in the frame you can't mess that up too badly. As an added bonus prize it creates a nice circular loop for viewers to meander in.

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One more than we'll call it a day. Another one on messing with viewer awareness of subject awareness etc... This one can be tricky but usually not too too easy to epic fail at. Let's call it observation number 8,820. Any obstruction between the camera and a human subject will imply camera unawareness without eye contact and even sometimes with eye contact. Try it. Forget that name before, let's call it the keyhole effect. Try it, makes things work very differently with all else being equal.

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End Notes

All pictures made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55mm XF. Processing via Lightrooooooom CC with VSCO FILM05 BW400CN applied on import. I really wish Adobe made LR work completely differently in all ways but local adjustments and also I wish they named it Lightbright, do they make those anymore?