The picturesque and the “Kodak moments”

The Picturesque and the “Kodak moments”

“The imagination becomes a camera obscura, only with this difference, that the camera represents objects as they really are; while the imagination, impressed with the most beautiful scenes, and chastened by rules of art, forms its pictures, not from the most admirable parts of nature; but in the best taste.”William Gilpin in Three Essays on Picturesque Beauty

Most battlefield photos of modern soldiers taken immediately after combat usually depict an unshaven and weary GI with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. This is such a common sight in modern wars that it can almost be considered a classic pose. Of course during World War II it was not only the GI who appeared in pictures with cigarettes. President Franklin Roosevelt had his trademark cigarette holder with a cigarette burning at the end in many of his poses. Prime Minister Churchill was rarely seen without his ever-present cigar. And General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific Theater of the War, was known for his corncob pipe. And who would forget “El Tabaco”, former Philippine president so named because of his signature cigar-on-the-mouth image, jumping up-and-down during the famed 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.

Kodak moments

Let’s face it. Majority of digital camera users, like me, have no goal to become another Ansel Adams or Robert Capa, two of the greatest and influential photographers of all time. Most of us simply want to take memorable pictures of special times in our lives that include family and friends… and of course, our beloved hobby — airsoft.

Now, here’s a feature in some digital cameras that will give you something to smile about — the Smile Detection mode. The feature is said to “capture joyous moments that used to get away!” Simply switch the camera to Smile Shutter mode, which functions whenever Face Detection finds a face in a scene. Once the Smile Shutter is activated, the camera automatically takes a photo for you.

More impressive, the camera can detect different degrees of smiles in folks you photograph. Simply set Smile Level sensitivity to “high” and it will detect a faint smile. The “medium” level detects a normal smile, whatever that is. Set it to “low” if you want to capture a “hearty laugh.”

If there are several subjects in the frame, you can use the camera’s touch screen to specify the face you want to capture smiling. Everyone else can be making a sourpuss, but the one you selected will look just fine.

Yeah right… But I’m digressing…

Browsing through the Photos and Videos Section of FilAirsoft, I have categorized most photos there into three funny outtakes: the defiant, the scissors and the kitchen kommandos.

The “defiant” pose

Going for the melodrama. Heads slightly tilted upwards. Poker faced. Eyes staring dead ahead, brows raised. Mouth twitched to one side. AEGs at port-arms position or sometimes just arms akimbo.

The most common among airsoft poses, and up until now, I’m still wondering why.

The “scissors”

Or is it the “V” for victory? Other variations include: the “hang-ten” and the “Gwapings”, done with the index finger and the thumb forming an “L” under one’s chin. What’s with guys and their fingers anyway?

The “Kitchen Kommandos”

Guns. Check!

Gears. Check!

Loadout. Check!

Mom-in-the-Kitchen background. Errr….

Many of us are guilty of doing this impromptu photoshoot in our homes, especially when we’re itching to try on the latest RRV you acquired or the M90K your dad sent you as a birthday gift.

At times, I also like to term this posing “genre” as the “Lost Commando” stance. Lost, being out-of-place. Ever imagined someone wearing a ghuillie suit in CQB? I guess you get the idea.

Seriously now…

See if you can tell what the problem is with this photo.

What’s wrong here? This picture violates all the basic rules in AEG handling: finger off the trigger, magazine out, never point the muzzle at anyone.

The great trigger finger debate: As you may know, several people, myself included, are very anal about having trigger fingers off the triggers in pictures. This is based off of a matter of safety and of portraying an image of professionalism. SO, when taking pictures of yourself or your team, remember this. Obviously, this “rule” does not apply to Action shots or role-played action poses.

Taking that “Picturesque” moment

Rather than just pointing the camera at the subject, you need to compose an image. Framing is very subjective. What one person finds dramatic, another may find pointless. There really is no clear-cut convention at how one should frame (or compose) a photograph, but some fairly simple rules must be observed. One of the most important rules in photographic composition is the rule of thirds. This rule divides the frame into nine sections. Points (or lines) of interest should occur at 1/3 or 2/3 of the way up (or across) the frame, rather than in the center.

Here are other points one must remember when composing a shot:

Be clear about the subject

Make sure you know exactly what it is you are photographing (i.e. have a clearly defined subject). For example, if you are photographing a person and you are not interested in what’s happening in the background, compose the photo accordingly (i.e. zoom in on them or get closer).

Don’t have unnecessary empty or useless space in the photo (e.g. lots of sky if the subject is on the ground). In some cases you may have a good reason for including empty space—the rule is to leave out empty space that serves no purpose. If it adds to the effect of the composition, that’s fine.

In some cases the subject is simply a scene or a landscape. You don’t necessarily need a person or object to be the subject—it can be anything at all. The point is to be aware of what it is you are trying to capture, and how you can best compose the photo to achieve this.

Compose the entire frame, not just the subject

While concentrating on the subject of the photo, it is easy to overlook other parts of the composition. Before you hit the shutter button, take note of everything in the photo—not just the subject.

Check the edges of the frame

Pay attention to the edges of your frame. Avoid having half objects in frame, especially people (showing half of someone’s face is very unflattering). Also try not to cut people off at the joints—the bottom of the frame can cut across a person’s stomach, but not their knees. It just doesn’t look right.

  • Use different camera angles – One of the most common ways to add dramatic effect to a photograph is to use an interesting or unusual camera angle. Many shots can be given added impact by simple changes in the camera view. When the subject is a person, different angles can have a strong influence on how they are perceived. A photo looking down at a person can make them look diminished, or perhaps down-to-earth, informal, etc. A photo looking up at someone can make him or her look powerful or imposing.
  • Avoid distracting objects – if something in the photo attracts the eye more than the subject, try to compose the photo differently.

Strive for balance

There are many types of “balance” in a photograph—a mix of close and distant objects or a mix of light and dark. Poor balance is not usually good, for example, a photo with too much light and no contrast. Experiment and learn how to provide a pleasing balance.

Use lines

Look for horizontal and vertical lines in the frame (e.g. the horizon, poles, etc). Make sure the horizontals are level and the verticals are straight up and down (unless of course you’re purposely going for a tilted effect).

Different lines have different effects:

  • Vertical lines emphasize strength, power and height.
  • Horizontal lines emphasize width, stability and security.
  • Diagonal lines have a more dramatic, dynamic effect than vertical and horizontal.
  • Curved lines reflect nature, relaxation, sensuality, etc.

Lines can be used to direct the viewer’s interest, emphasize parts of the frame, and generally create interesting effects. Note that lines do not have to be artificial or even particularly obvious.

Once you have the Dos and Don’ts down pat, you can experiment more on being creative. Focus on how to best convey the meaning of your shots. If it is a sniper seeking out targets, get down on the dirt and see it from the sniper’s point-of-view (POV). If it is a room clearing operation during CQB, maybe you need to get inside that “caterpillar line” to see all the action.

Look for interesting and unusual shots. Most of your shots will probably be quite straightforward—normal shots from approximate adult eye-level. Try mixing in a few variations. Different angles and different camera positions can make all the difference. For example, a shot of a resting weekend warrior can become much more dramatic if shot from a low point. On the other hand, a new and interesting perspective can be obtained by looking straight down on the scene. Be aware that looking up at a person can make them appear more imposing, whereas looking down at a person can diminish them.

Taking the shot

Position yourself and your camera. If you’re using a tripod, make sure it’s stable and level (unless you have a reason for it to be tilted). If the tripod has a spirit level, check it.

If you’re not using a tripod, stabilize yourself and your camera as best you can. Keep your arms and elbows close to your body (you can use your arms as “braces” against your torso). Breathe steadily. For static shots, place your feet at shoulder width (if you’re standing), or try bracing yourself against some solid object (furniture, walls, or anything).

Frame your shot. Then do quick mental checks: white balance, focus, iris, framing (vertical and horizontal lines, background, etc.).

Use both eyes. A valuable skill is the ability to use one eye to look through the viewfinder and the other eye to watch your surroundings. It takes a while to get used to it, but it means that you can walk around while shooting without tripping over, as well as keeping an eye out for where the action is happening. It’s also easier on your eyes during long shoots.

Finally, here are a few “etiquette” that you should consider:

Be diplomatic while shooting. Think about the people you’re shooting. Remember that people are often uncomfortable about being photographed, so try to be discreet and unobtrusive (for example, you might want to position yourself some distance from the subjects and zoom in on them, rather than being “in their faces”).

Learn to judge when it’s worth making a nuisance of yourself for the sake of the shot, and when it’s not. If it’s an important shot, it might be necessary to inconvenience a few people to get it right. But if you’re going to make enemies over something that doesn’t matter, forget it and move on.

One final note: be prepared to experiment. Think about some of the things you’d like to try doing, then try them at a time that doesn’t matter (i.e. don’t experiment while shooting a wedding). Most new techniques take practice and experimentation to achieve success, and good camera work requires experience.

Remember: If you want to be good, you’ll have to invest some time.



Photographers must learn a good deal about a lot of factors if they wish to make good photos. Fortunately for the tyros, there are many ways to acquire that “lensman’s keen eye”.


The first and usual method for the novice photographer is trial-and-error. After having taken someone’s picture, you look at it and realize it could be improved if the subject didn’t, say, look so inexpressive.

If you keep being the strongest critic of your own pictures, and constantly look for new ways to improve them, you will over time self-teach a good deal about posing. At some point, you will be so comfortable in certain portrait situations, that you will almost automatically select the pose that is appropriate for the subject.

Learn from the works of others

The second method also involves self-teaching and therefore goes hand-in-hand with the trial-and-error approach. It involves emulation—the effort or desire to equal or excel others. Since there are few posing situations that have not been successfully done countless times before, the beginning photographer needs only to look at the work of other photographers to see how they dealt with a given type of photo. Then, you try to match it and even to improve upon it. When you find out that the new pose works, it becomes part of your posing repertoire for all future, similar situations. Where do you find examples of good posing? Just about anywhere that photography and portrait art can be seen: fashion, art and photography magazines, museums and galleries.

Create a swipe file

Since you won’t likely remember every picture you come across that has a pose you like, we suggest you start a “swipe file” that you can refer to for ideas when taking future portraits. What is a swipe file?

It begins with a pair of scissors or a photocopy machine, and a scrapbook. Clip out magazine pictures containing poses that you would like your subjects to try, and save them in a scrapbook, preferably organized in sections that define the types of pose. One section may contain only casual, family pictures, while another has only performers’ head shots. Use the photocopier when you come across a publication that you should not use scissors on. Not only will your posing swipe file provide you with an array of poses to stimulate your creativity, it becomes a tool you can use to show your subjects how you want them to pose to achieve the effect you are after.

Take a course

A third method of acquiring knowledge of posing technique involves instruction. Schools, camera clubs, community recreational groups and photography-instruction organizations have casual and formalized programs to improve photography. Posing technique is usually on the curriculum. You may not live near an institution that provides photography instruction, in which event you can turn to your local library for photography instruction books or consider reputable correspondence courses for learn-at-home instruction. A local photographer may also be willing to provide you with instruction.

Understand composition

A fourth method of improving your posing skills is one that is less direct than the foregoing methods, but equally as beneficial, and works well in conjunction with them. That is the improvement of your image composition technique. As you gain an understanding of how objects in an image inter-relate for good composition, you will begin to intrinsically know when a pose is a good one or unsuitable for the overall image. Having good compositional skills is invaluable in improving any picture, and will trigger an alarm in your head when a pose does not suit the other elements in your composition.

Suggested readings:

  • Posing and Lighting Techniques for Studio by JJ Allen
  • The Portrait Photographer’s Guide to Posing by Bill Hurter
  • Master Posing Guide for Portrait Photographers by JD Wacker


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About Seeing with Brahmin eyes
My sense of humor can be keen, sarcastic, silly or corny -- sometimes all at once. I enjoy meeting new people with no preconceived ideas about what or what is not possible. You get much more out of life by being open minded and willing. I'm an easy going, good-natured person who loves life and loves people. I'm both optimistic and realistic and pretty objective when it comes to assessing situations, events, etc. In general I am a very positive person and you'll usually find we with a smile on my face.

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