Make Light of Life and Photograph Humor
Humor is not an easy subject, because people have different opinions on what makes them laugh. These days, images and videos featuring humor fill social media platforms. But there is a difference between a photograph and an image made for social media. A photograph is a form of art, subtle, with a narrative, and a natural perspective. When it comes to humor, photography uses candid scenes, no staging, and no provocative marketing subterfuges. Photographs capture a true feeling, a snapshot of reality, which in photographer’s eyes is funny.
Maybe the most famous pioneer of candid photography is Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004). His street photographs capture historical events, social issues, and street celebrations. But they also capture candid everyday life. And sometimes, humor is present too. If you think it’s easy and meaningless to capture humor in your compositions, think again. A photograph of Henri Cartier-Bresson, called Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954, can be bought with more than 25, 000$. The image features a boy with a smiling face, carrying two large bottles of wine. It is just a snapshot on a street in Paris, but it is a complete composition, which tells a story and shows the photographer’s sense of humor.
Candid photography is the most appropriate genre for this type of subjects. It requires a good sense of observation and composition. You also need to be fast, because a scene may last only for several seconds. Learn to use your camera and always be prepared. Candid photography is usually about people and street life. You need to be there, with your camera prepared. Use wide lenses, fast shutter speeds, and small ISO settings. Tripods are recommended only if you have a fixed position and enough space to install yourself. Henri Cartier-Bresson never cropped his images and always did black and white photographs. This demonstrates once again that composition is the most important part of photography.
Animals and Children
Some of the most common sources of humor are animals and children. They are natural talents in making funny faces and actions. You can find them in parks, at the beach, in your family or neighborhood. Pay attention at face expressions and gestures. Also, keep an eye on the environment, to be sure you capture the entire moment. Humor usually happens in a context.
Animals and children are moving subjects. A fast shutter speed is essential if you want sharp and clear images. Avoid low lighting conditions and don’t use the flash (you may scare them). Public places are sometimes crowded, so be sure you don’t cut anything at the edge of the frame. Again, wide lenses and deep depth of field are highly recommended.
Although there are moments when a funny face can make you laugh, usually humor has a narrative. Practice storytelling as often as you can. Pretty images are just pretty, images with a story are amazing. Place your subjects in context (for example, location, time etc.). Pay attention to the background, because something might happen there too. Observe all the details around your subject: how other people see it, inscriptions around it, weather, clothes, and so on. There are many things to consider. Besides, the nature of a snapshot doesn’t give you too much time. This is why practice is important. Take your camera on the street, choose your characters, and then review your images. Did you manage to communicate what you wanted? Storytelling is extremely important in photography.
Humor is a great subject. Everybody likes it, it is impossible to fail. But there is one more secret: you have to like it yourself. If the scene doesn’t make you laugh (or at least smile), it won’t be successful. Candid photography needs sensibility and implication. You have to get yourself out from the shell and take part at your photographs. To be able to capture the moment, you have to live it.