10 — Exaggeration of Human Form

INT CHILE Santiago-Jumper.jpg

While I was cleaning up some files, I came across a fairly poor scan of this old film image, but since it illustrates something I want to write about, I decided to use it despite the lower quality than I typically want to use. 

There should be something very, very obvious about this shot. That’s a human in the upper left corner. Unmistakeable. 


Because it has two legs, two arms, and a head, and it’s moving on two legs. Humans are the only mammal that stays on two legs for long. The teaching point here is about exaggeration. If you look at almost any photo that has a human in it, they are standing straight up, arms at sides, legs together. Basically a big blob of shape, with nothing human about it. Of course, much of the time you can still tells it’s human because the exposure shows a face and you focused on the eyes. (You did focus on the eyes, right?) 

When you place figures in landscapes, or in front of monuments, and especially when you’re dealing with silhouettes, pose exaggeration is something you should consider imperative. Imagine if the human in this shot was just standing facing me. They might look just another jut of the rock. Unless. Unless I got them to separate their legs, unless I got them to get their arms away from their body. 

Note also that this particular human silhouette invokes motion across the frame. That was actually what I was looking for. The slightly slow shutter speed (1/15) also gives them less than sharp edges, adding to the motion impact. 

It’s nearly impossible to put too much exaggeration in to poses in silhouette like this (and even in front lit ones, too). While the subject may feel awkward, the flattening effect of a print needs all the help it can get to put energy into the human form. 

Short version: never let a subject pose directly at you, arms at their side, legs together. Never. Put them at a slight diagonal, get them to put some space between their legs and between their torso and body. Let them ham it up. Tell them that they’re Superman about to take off, Spiderman about to jump, that they’re about to encounter a hurdle in a race, anything to get them to do something other than just stand there. 

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