Humor in photography :: Digital Photo Secrets
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Humor in photography

by David Peterson 1 comment

They say that laughter increases your lifespan. If that's true, you might want to try adding a little humor to your photographic repertoire.

It won't be an easy task. Humor is actually one of the more challenging photographic subjects. There aren't really any compositional rules or camera settings or filters you can use in your pursuit of that laugh-out-loud image. And photographic humor is different than cracking a joke or relating a funny story. It can be easy to overdo humor in a photograph - and overdone humor means that your viewer is more likely to roll her eyes than laugh out loud. Sometimes subtlety is the best course of action; sometimes in-your-face humor is the way to go. The choice will depend largely on the situation.


[ Top image Wassup? by Flickr user TC Morgan]

Don't wait for the right moment, make the right moment

Spontaneous humor is a wonderful thing to find and capture. But if you spend all of your time waiting for the right moment you might find that your funny images are few and far between. Definitely be on the lookout for spontaneous funny moments, but in the meantime don't be afraid to stage them.

Keep a device (or even one of those primitive notebooks) with you at all times so you can jot down ideas for funny images as you have them, then set up those shots and see what you get. Just make sure you warn people first. A photo of that big guy just before a bucket of water hits him is probably going be hilarious. So will that photo of his fist on its way to your face. But you won't think it's so funny 30 seconds later when your beloved DSLR is in pieces at your feet.

Where to find humorous subjects

The good news is that some subjects just lend themselves to humor. Children and animals are naturals. Follow a child around for a couple of hours and you'll probably come away with one or two funny images. Have a child try a pickle for the first time and capture her expression. Capture a baby making faces at herself in the mirror, or a child with static in his hair. Kids doing grown-up things can be funny, too - playing an oversized guitar, for example, or making a victory fist.

Animals can be even easier to capture in humorous situations. Cavorting puppies and kittens can end up in some wild poses. Sometimes animals can fall asleep in funny positions. You can use props with both sleeping animals and animals who are awake (and cooperative) to capture a funny image--a cat in a hat, for example, or a sleeping puppy with one paw wrapped around the television remote.

  • Nikon D200
  • 200
  • f/13.0
  • 0.003 sec (1/320)
  • 18 mm

Pug Toss 2 by Flickr user jellywatson

  • Nikon D50
  • 200
  • f/4.5
  • 0.003 sec (1/400)
  • 20 mm

Flying Cat + Tutorial by Flickr user Photo Extremist

Evan shows us how he took the photo with the flying cat on his PhotoExremist site. I highly recommend Evan's Trick Photography book that explains this and many more techniques to trick photography.

Perspective

There may not be any compositional rules for humorous photography, but there are certainly some tricks you can employ to get good results. For example, some subjects can look compelling from unusual angles, and some subjects can look downright hilarious. Try shooting your friend from directly below or above. Or use a wide angle lens - wide angle shots of people and animals can be funny all by themselves. A wide angle image taken from a close perspective can radically distort a human or animal face, and you don't have to do much else to make the whole image a funny one.


Face like a Horse by Flickr user Tim . Simpson

  • Nikon D50
  • f/4.5
  • 0.013 sec (1/80)
  • 18 mm

71 by Flickr user inhisgrace

Forced Perspective

Photographs are two dimensional, which can be a problem for traditional subjects like landscapes, which need to have foreground elements or strong lines in them in order to provide perspective. But when you're trying to create a funny image, the two dimensional qualities of a photograph can work in your favor. Try positioning your human subject in such a way that he or she appears to be interacting with a background element. For example, you can make your subject appear to be throwing the sun, or kissing a statue. You can also position your subject in such a way that she appears to have extra limbs or things growing out of her head - positioned carefully in front of a tree, for example, you can make it appear as if she has a hairdo of tree branches. This technique is called "forced perspective," and it can result in some really funny and interesting images.

  • Canon PowerShot S2 IS
  • 50
  • f/8.0
  • 0.125 sec (1/8)
  • 6 mm

I Dub Thee Sir Peeps-A Lot, Well At Least 5 Times by Flickr user Poppy Wright

Props

There are a lot of things you can do with props to create funny images. Kids' action figures, for example, can be placed in different poses and locations for hilarious results. Draw a face on an inanimate object and put it in human situations. You can also give your subjects funny props to interact with, or you can stage entire scenes with props. Have your subject lie down on the ground and strike a pose as if you're catching him mid-sprint. Then surround him with objects that suggest a situation. Maybe he's being pursued by a pack of rabid teddy bears. Or maybe he's lifting something ridiculously heavy with a single finger.


fashionista by Flickr user demandaj

Juxtaposition

Things that don't seem to belong together can make for humorous images, too. Big things next to little things are a classic example: a Great Dane beside a Chihuahua can inspire giggles, and so can a small baby wearing a large pair of sunglasses.

Post processing

Don't be afraid to add funny effects in post processing. Sometimes simple tweaks like increasing the size of a car's tires or a person's eyes can make an otherwise dull photo into something hilarious. You can put faces on inanimate objects or place people in impossible situations. A little creativity can go a long way.

Accidentally funny: Photobombs

A "photobomb" is when a person or animal walks unexpectedly into a photo and steals the scene. Examples of a photo bomb include a person showing up in a window behind a very serious looking couple, or an animal sticking his head into a photo he clearly doesn't belong in. These kinds of images - and other accidentally funny shots too - are real gems and should be welcomed whenever you happen to find them among your otherwise serious images.

  • Nikon D800
  • f/2.8
  • 0.004 sec (1/250)

Lauren & Jeremy | RAWR! by Flickr user Sean Molin Photography

Seek inspiration

Google and Flickr can be a great source for inspiration. Whenever you get stuck in a rut, try Googling "funny photos" to see what you find. Chances are just a few minutes of wading through other people's creations will give you a few ideas of your own. Don't try to copy someone's work, of course, simply use it as a jumping off point for some hilarious images of your own.

Always be on the lookout for funny situations

There are some situations that are just funny, and require little or no intervention. A child with a strong wind whipping her hair around can't really fail to provide a funny image. Or a cat hanging from a screen door. Or a grown man chasing a chicken. If you're in pursuit of funny photos, make sure you always have a camera with you, because funny moments come and go very quickly. If you're not ready, you'll miss them.

See more examples of funny photos.

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Comments

  1. Shashi Kassen says:

    Photography broadens the scope of creativity and entertainment !
    These are a great ideas. Shashi

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Difficulty:
Beginner
Length:
10 minutes
About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.