Look for a Good Laugh

Purcell is an author of photography books.

Humor is an elusive element. What is funny to one person will leave another viewer completely cold.

Some photographs evoke open laughter, some a subdued chuckle and still others only a broad grin. As you travel, be aware of the glimpses of humor around you and have your camera ready to catch them. A few funny images hidden in your slide show will delight your audience.

While a photographer can set up a humorous picture such as a puppy in a baby carriage, there is a special quality about something that is really happening. Look around you and I'm sure you'll find humorous signs. It is even better if you include part of the building or a person walking past the sign.

'Unobtrusive' Is the Key

What types of cameras and lenses are the best for capturing humor? When it comes to candid people pictures, I think the key word is unobtrusive.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, a master of gentle photographic humor, used a 35-millimeter lens on an old Leica body and shot with an instinctive, reflex reaction and then moved quickly to the next promising picture situation. His technique of shooting with one camera and one lens enabled him to work with a direct simplicity, to capture a precise moment unencumbered by the usual paraphernalia of his profession.

Lens technology has improved. My favorite is a zoom lens somewhere in the 80-200 millimeter range, so I can stand back in a crowd and pick out things that strike my funny bone.

A mirror attachment is available for taking pictures without your subject being aware of it. This ingenious device, called a right-angle candider, fits on the front of your lens and allows you to point your camera in one direction but take a picture to the right or left. For instance, it may appear that you are taking a picture of a sailboat on the lake when you are really photographing activity on the beach. Circo Mirrotach is the name of the device that will attach to your 100-millimeter or longer lens. It is available from Spiratone for $24.95 plus postage.

Mention Make, Model

The Spiratone catalogue of photographic accessories usually costs $1, but if you have a 35-millimeter SLR camera, mention the make and model of your camera and this column, and the catalogue will be sent to you free by writing to Spiratone Inc., 135-06 Northern Blvd., Flushing, N.Y. 11354.

A favorite dog picture shows three canines relaxing on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. In the background is a booth with a wheel of chance adorned with huge stuffed dogs of various colors. A large sign says, "Win a toy! 10 cents."

Much photographic humor has to do with juxtaposition. One of my pictures from Paris is of the gigantic base of the Arc de Tiomphe in Paris with the heroic sculptures of the Napoleonic era towering hundreds of feet above the ground. Seated on a bench, and obviously daydreaming beneath the valiant warriors carved in stone is an elderly, diminutive Frenchman wearing a black beret and holding a furled umbrella. I don't usually title my pictures, but I called this one "Dreams of Glory."

Another sculpture-related photograph was taken in Rome at the Capitoline Museum. In an open courtyard are dismembered parts of a huge statue of Constantine. I was especially intrigued by a colossal hand with a proportionately large finger pointing upward. I stood waiting with my camera poised, when a young man approached the hand. He stopped and gazed at it with wonder and then tilted his head back and looked heavenward in the direction of the pointing finger. I froze him at 1/250th of a second at f-4.

In looking for humor you must be sensitive about how people and/or objects relate to each other within the frame of your viewfinder. Sometimes it is possible to have a built-in caption for a picture if there is a billboard, sign or some convenient graffiti in the scene.

Getting funny travel pictures that just happen takes a lot of patience, a lot of luck and a quick eye. It requires having your camera with you at all times and tuning yourself in to seeing amusing situations.

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