Capturing Feelings on Film: Natural Gestures Work Best

Capturing Feelings on Film: Natural Gestures Work Best – Brief Article

Philip N. Douglis

Simple hand gestures can speak volumes about personal feelings. Photography can freeze such feelings forever on film, creating images that effectively document human emotions.

Editorial photography is often based on such documentation. Images of hand gestures expressing emotions and feelings are quite common, but many fail as communication because gestures are often set up by photographers. For example, if a photographer asks someone to point to a computer screen, the viewer will see only an awkwardly stiff picture of a person having his or her picture taken.

To work as communication, hand gestures must be expressed naturally. Although the woman in our first example may be fully conscious of the camera, her hand gesture falls naturally into place. The photographer does not tell her where to place her hand for this shot, which ran in Allstate Insurance Company’s (North-brook, Ill.) current annual report. Instead, the woman’s hand expresses a moment of reflection possibly triggered by pointed questions and comments from the photographer. We see before us a very thoughtful person. And that’s the point this picture is trying to make.

In our second example, a NASA (Moffett Field, Calif.) scientist is explaining his work to someone. He looks away from the camera. One palm rests open at waist level. The other is raised, fingers indicating the mass of equipment behind the scientist. These spontaneous gestures naturally express this man’s control over his work and his confidence in it. The camera has preserved this moment as evidence of scientific competence.

The interaction of gestures also can express meaning. In our third example, a political candidate stumps for votes at a SCANA Corporation (Columbia, S.C.) employee open house. Both of his hands are flung open in a questioning gesture. He faces a passive audience of one, a man with his arms folded before him. Unmoved by the message, he seems to be patiently hearing the candidate out. The contrasting interplay of these gestures defines the essence of the task before this candidate. He must convince a passive electorate of his strengths if he is to succeed, even if he doesn’t have all the answers.

Meanwhile, another candidate creates a quite different voter response. Hillary Clinton announced her intention to run for the U.S. Senate at a New York City teachers union meeting. In our final example, a photographer for a union newspaper captures the tumultuous response to her candidacy. Clinton threads her way through an energetic thicket of thrusting and clapping hands. Whereas most handshaking pictures — the infamous grip and grin cliches a — fail to communicate because the hands are clasped for the purposes of a posed picture, these shaking hands are spontaneously supporting Clinton’s candidacy.

Philip N. Douglis, ABC, is director of The Douglis Visual Workshops and the most widely known consultant on editorial photography for organizations. An IABC Fellow, Douglis offers the comprehensive sixperson Communicating with Pictures workshops twice each year in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, Arizona.

COPYRIGHT 2000 International Association of Business Communicators

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