Atmosphere and the point of view

A campfire somewhere far out, close to the alps. Particles of the burned wood are blasted into the sky, while the heat radiation warms the gathered crowd, itself hypnotized by the dancing motion of the flames.

Two photographs are shown here. While the above is clearly the one of my preference, I wanted to present both to explain what different focal lenghts do to the perspective and ultimately to you as the viewer of the image. The first one was shot 20 meters away with a telezoom, while the second (though cropped) was shot only two meters away with a wide-angle. Basically it’s the same motive, yet depending on the perspective that I as the photographer took, the viewer of the image will look and feel differently about the situation. What do I mean?

In the above one, the composition is such, that the group appears in silence and peace, covered by the night sky. You see them from afar and focus on the silouhettes of the people in front of the fire. In the second one it get’s more confusing and busy, for you see people talking and you can imagine yourself just standing next to the scene and listen to what they talk, you can listen to the cracking fire and smell the shisha (for those who recognize) the guy in the center smokes from. Why? Because I actually stood right next to it. Admitatly, the second one could have been much better though.

Generally, if you want to place the viewer inside of the situation, then grab your wide-angle and get as close as you can, but remember to ask yourself what feeling it is that you want to transmit. As I said, the first picture transmits for me more what I feel when seeing a camping group in the middle of the night. The famous (war) reporter Robert Capa and co-founder of Magnum used to say: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough!”. Capa speaks not just about having a short focal lenght, but also about getting related to your subject, but I will save that story for the future.

2 thoughts on “Atmosphere and the point of view”

  1. I find your commentaries quite interesting. I totally agree with you that a central point before taking any picture is to ask yourself what do we search doing it. But what i wanted to comment was more centered in the content of the two photos you showed up. I know it’s not related totally with the aim of your post, but anyway. I think the second photo, is more interesting than the first one in so far as the the focus is done not on the group that stays on the left side but on the fire and the men who is smoking. I think that’s an other point that we do not always take in account, that’s how the light contrasts can totally reorient our attention in the photography.


    1. Hey there,
      indeed the second picture focuses more on the people smoking due to the contrast with the fire in the background.
      I haven’t looked at these pictures in a long time. I prefer the ambiguity of solitude and closeness in the first one. The group feels sort of without harmony in the second picture. This feeling is very sensitive to the point of view the camera guy takes. Afterall, both pictures were taken just about one minute apart…

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