One Writer’s Journey

June 11, 2019

Photos and Photo Research

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:15 am
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As a nonfiction author, I like to use photos in my research.  I look up photos to discover what a Mayan calendar looks like, what Mark Twain looked like at various points in his life, and what’s with the iridescent akhal teke coat described by horse lovers?

That said, when looking up any of these things, you should proceed with caution.  Aztec calendars are labeled as Mayan.  Actors who played Mark Twain are tagged as Mark Twain himself.  And horse breeds?  They get mislabeled. too.  Trying to make sure you have an accurately labeled image is tricky, but it isn’t your only potential problem.

I’m also finishing up an online MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) class on Coursera, Seeing through Photographs.  I took this class expecting to learn about the art of photography.  What I got instead was also awesome – a class on visual literacy and the many ways that photographs can fool the eye.

I wouldn’t even say that the photographers necessarily do it intentionally.  Remember these are photos as art.  Just as a painter goes for certain effects in their work, so does a photographer.  But this can mean choosing to photograph at this specific angle to cut something out of the background.  It can also mean cropping photos.  Then there is the length of time a photo is exposed, making it lighter or darker than the scene was in reality.  Developing can also alter the apparent light level as well as contrast.

And none of this even touches on whether or not certain elements of the photo were staged.

People expect light to be altered, backgrounds chosen, and staging in studio photos.  But these things are also a part of non-studio photography.  At this point, I’m a little hesitant to call it “real world” photography!

None of this is to say that photos can’t be important in your research.  But proceed with caution and understanding.  A photo is every bit as calculated as the piece of writing it illustrates.


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