So much art relies on creating tension within the scene. This is important in many ways, but when it comes to creative portraiture, it is paramount to give the character and storyline tension. Tension adds to the storyline of an image and also ensures a more visceral reaction from the viewer.
The Frequency of Beating Hearts (2012)
This image is openly frightening. The details reveal that the two subjects are actually melded or have grown together. This type of body distortion creates controversy since the human form has been manipulated to make the viewer feel a chill of fear.
If you shoot a lot of portraits or self-portraits, you might have noticed the differences in the effectiveness of various poses. When you, or your model, tense your back muscles or your jaw the result was very different from one image to the next. One pose would feel lazy, while another would feel powerful.
Tension in the character is frequently a vital element when creating dark and brooding images. Often something is happening that the character is reacting to, and often that event is not a pleasant one. Because of this, dark art pairs very well with tension in a scene. If ever you want to make a picture appear darker, try telling the model to tense his or her muscles. If that should fail, the image can always be manipulated in Photoshop. By enhancing bones or muscles, or creating more highlights and shadows around these areas, they are more visible in the final image, and also heighten the tension and sense of darkness.
Creating tension in a scene is only slightly different to doing so in a subject. In order to give a scene tension, the most important thing to do is to create a shot that does not feel static. Movement is important in most types of photography, and adding a breeze or wind through fabric or hair can be the detail that makes an image come alive. The more alive and dynamic an image seems, the more tension the scene tends to have. If a subject is very still in a very quiet scene, there is less darkness and the scene seems less ominous. However, wind blowing through the frame gives an elemental energy and acts as a sign that there is more to the image.
The Embrace of Caring Hands (2012)
Here the subject is gripped by what appear to be human hands protruding from the forest. Nature is literally embracing the subject, and the darkness and surrealism comes from combining two things that should—in the daylight, regular world—stay separate.
Controversy is another element that makes an image come to life. You might be concerned that by producing controversial images, you will be in danger of alienating a portion of your audience, especially if you are relatively new to photography. Certainly one might say that it is not a wise business decision to alienate a whole demographic by creating controversial images. However, if you come readily to that conclusion, you might wish to ask yourself if you are creating art at all. The heart of an image comes from the heart of the artist, and if an artist’s heart is not 100% in the creation of a picture, the image itself loses focus. Follow what interests you and trust that others will be interested too.
Inspiration is not a far-flung concept, out of reach to all but a few great artists, and nor is it a matter of chance; as a photographer it’s possible to train your mind to see the creative possibilities in any situation. Featuring the pioneering work of author Brooke Shaden and a selection of carefully chosen contributing photographers, Inspiration in Photography book provides the perfect balance of insight and instruction to help you find inspiration whenever you need it and capitalise on it every time.
RRP for print edition: £17.99