LO1 - Photograph analysis
Photographer #1: Steve McCurry
Portrait photos attempt to capture people as they are. They are a simple shot of a
person, whether that is their face, their entire body, or a close-up. They show
people as they are without any kind of retouching or Photoshop. Portrait photos
are almost always of one person & a close-up of their face. If it is not a close-up,
then a person is still always the main focus of the image.
‘Afghan Girl’ is a portrait photo by Steve McCurry. It was taken in 1984 for
National Geographic on a Nikon FM2 camera. It is of an Afghan refugee, whose
name is Sharbat Gula. (She was not identified until 2002).
The photograph was taken by McCurry to encapsulate the raw, rough lifestyle
that was Afghanistan at the time. This photo is famous because of the unique and
encapsulating use of contrasting colours and her eyes. As it was a quick snap of a
photo, it was surprising to see it turn out so well. She did not pose, or get ready
for the photo in any way.
Composition – The girl is positioned in the dead centre of the frame, and there is
no rule of thirds present in this photo - especially as it was a quickly taken photo.
The fact that she is right in the middle of the frame once again emphasises her
Lighting – The background is well lit, as well as the girl herself. The only part that
is not well lit is her hair – this causes a contrast between the light eyes & her
facial features & in turn, emphasises those features.
Focus & depth of field – Like many portrait photos, the background is out of
focus to increase the attention on the girl in foreground. The focal point is clearly
her eyes, as they are well in focus and every little detail of them can be seen.
Framing & Cropping – This image is most likely not cropped, and in a
conventional portrait framing style (taller than it is wide). It is a close-up shot,
containing the head and shoulders of the Afghan Girl in the image.
Narrative/Meaning – The meaning of this image is to capture the people of
Afghanistan as they are. The girl wasn’t prepared for the picture, which shows
just how fearful she actually was of McCurry taking the photo. It shows how
these people are always fearful of danger and war. The facial expression of the
girl, her clothes and the colour scheme give a strong narrative in this image. It
shows the fear in her eyes, the confusion of having a random photo taken of her,
and the harsh reality of the place she was in – her torn clothes, the constant fear
of the Soviets & Mujahedeen, and her dirty skin.
This is another portrait image by Steve McCurry, of an Indian woman smoking in
a small tent. The image was most likely taken out of fascination, as in most
cultures nowadays smoking is either looked down upon or unpopular. This
woman is smoking a very large pipe-like apparatus, which would be considered
very extreme or odd in our country.
Composition (Rule of thirds) – There is a use of the rule in this photo, as the
woman in the image takes up the middle third of the frame – her arms act as the
vertical separation lines in the image, and she takes up the central 3 of the 9
spaces in terms of the rule of thirds.
Lighting – The whole image is rather dark, and all of the light is natural. The
background is entirely shadowed, with the only light coming in through the thin
fabric wall of the shelter or from behind the camera through an opening. Most of
the woman is lit (although covered).
Focus – The background is out of focus slightly, but enough to see the detail in
the fabric of the shelter. However this slight depth of field effect allows for more
focus on the woman in the foreground and the details on her arms, face and
Framing – The subject of the image is in the centre of the frame, to give
maximum attention and focus upon her. This is how most portrait photos are
framed though, with the subject in the centre of frame.
Cropping – The image appears not to have been edited or cropped, however it
may have had some changes to contrast & brightness – due to the vibrant colours
and very dark background. It also may have been cropped slightly, to
accommodate the rule of thirds more accordingly.
Narrative/Meaning – Steve McCurry has displayed a strong meaning to this
image, which is to display stark contrasts between our first-world culture and
the conditions and customs in India. There is a strong narrative to this image - it
contains many pointers towards a narrative, mainly the surroundings combined
with the woman’s facial expressions. It looks like an underprivileged area, as
suggested by the makeshift stitching in the fabric shelter and the natural tools
such as bamboo in the foreground. Her facial expression & the fact that she is
looking directly at the camera also show her surprise and confusion at the photo
being taken. She most likely does not know what he is doing at all. This further
endorses the idea that her culture is different from ours, as backed up by the
smoking & the clothing she is wearing. Her clothes have lots of small accessories,
tassels, necklaces, and patterns with an extraordinary amount of detail.