I am primarily a documentary photographer with a passion for capturing daily life with my husband, two crazy boys, and starved-for-attention dogs. I have always had a passion for shooting the mundane in new and interesting ways.
The heart of a documentary photograph is the moment captured. This is, of course, subjective to what the artist finds interesting. I believe that some of who we are is revealed in our art. We can see hints of our personalities — or where we are in our lives — within our images, both intentionally and unintentionally.
When I started incorporating humor into my images it was to capture the very different personalities of my boys. It made me realize that humor is a big part of my personality, and that’s why I’m drawn to these types of images in the first place. From then on, I’ve been on a mission to capture the quirkiness and hilarity of childhood in the form of subtle humor and irony.
Here are my eight tips for capturing humor in your everyday images:
1. Have your camera ready in case a hilarious moment arises.
At home, I keep my camera in a kitchen cabinet because we spend most of our time in or around the kitchen. But I also take my camera out in public, because that is when my boys are up to their finest antics. I shoot with a Nikon D750 and a Fujifilm X-T10. When using the D750, I use a 24mm lens, which is very small and light and allows me to carry my camera on my shoulder.
I know it can be a little intimidating and scary to shoot in public but let me ask you this: What is the difference between using an iPhone or a bigger camera? We see people taking photos with their phones in public all the time and we don’t think twice about it! You’re a photographer. When you’re in public, OWN IT!
2. Be an open-minded observer of life.
It’s important to observe what is going on around you, and to do so without any judgement or preconceived notions. The truth is stranger than fiction and you never know what you are going to witness. There is a world of opportunities out there just asking to be photographed. Your unique perspective will make it all the more interesting.
Sometimes you’ll need to be patient and shoot through the moment. Usually my best images are at the end of a series because my kids forget I am shooting and tend to act more naturally. As the moment unfolds, I can refine my composition for a stronger image.
3. Look for juxtaposition of unlikely elements.
It is ironic or coincidental to find an element in a place where it is viewed as not belonging. Remember on Sesame Street when they would show you a group of objects and ask you which one did not belong? Our brains are hardwired to identify the outlier.
There are so many opportunities to use this technique to infuse humor into any genre of photography. You can juxtapose two actions that do not go together, like people walking under a sign that says “no entry,” someone doing something unlikely in a scene, like a dog on a kitchen table, or an element that stands out in it’s surroundings like a lonely stuffed animal abandoned in a grocery store. Think of all the random places kids leave their belongings.
4. Capture people doing odd things in a normal environment.
Think of all the routines we do on a daily basis. What makes them “routine” is that they are pretty mundane activities. Images of these routines can also be boring. But, something unexpected or unusual in the image makes it much more intriguing. Go against the common assumptions of the tasks being performed or what happens at a specific place. Look for oddities.
When most people think of a grocery store, they think of shopping for food, not a child taking a nap on the shelves with his shoes off. Doing this normal activity in a place where it doesn’t make sense makes for a hilarious photo!
Here’s a little background on this image: We were out very late the night before and I was caught up talking to an old friend in the grocery store. For a few minutes, I could not find this little boy. I glanced down the aisle and saw his shoes on the floor, little toes sticking out of the shelves. I had my camera along to capture the hilarity of the moment.
5. Leave something to the imagination of the viewer.
Refrain from showing all the parts of a story. Let the viewer use their imagination to fill in the blanks of your image. This forces the viewer to create assumptions about your image and about the actual story.
In this image, I thought my son’s body language and the fact that he was sliding off the couch upside down was funny, so I only captured what I wanted the viewer to see. I did not want to show the top half of his body and where he was actually going. The assumptions about what the boy could be doing or what he could be feeling is more humorous than what he was actually doing outside of the frame.
6. Look for an ironic lack of connection in an image.
Think of an image of someone doing something goofy and another person laughing at them. That is a silly image. But, if you want to add some subtle ironic humor and tell a little bit of a story, consider an image with a lack of connection between your subjects or elements.
In this image, it is humorous that everyone is ignoring the boy’s shenanigans. It also tells you a little about the boy and the two women in this photograph. You can tell the boy is doing this not for attention but because he genuinely wants to. The worker on the right is not phased by the child’s actions, and is probably thinking, “How much longer until my shift is over?” From body language, we can assume the woman on the left has grandkids or is familiar with kids who probably do the exact same thing.
7. Wait for the decisive moment.
The term decisive moment was first coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was a pioneer in documentary and street photography. Simply said, the decisive moment is the perfect moment for you take the image for the story you want to convey.
Here’s a perfect example: My son was jumping over my other son when I quickly noticed the humor in the frame at the exact moment where one child’s foot was perfectly placed over the other boy’s face. One second sooner or later and the image would have been totally different, and would not have the same effect.
Fun tip: I think of my images as funny newspaper headlines.
8. Capture moments in unorthodox locations.
Sometimes, the location itself can put a humorous spin on the image. Two great examples of funny locations are a bathroom and the cluttered floor in a shoe aisle. My boys are still too young to be self-conscious, so for them an environmental portrait while using the bathroom may seem completely normal. This makes for a humorous everyday image.
In this image, I was first drawn to the repetition of all the shoes scattered around. When my son laid on the ground, I thought it was a perfect opportunity for a humorous image. While shooting through the moment, my other son laid down. I couldn’t get any better!
All photos by Karen Osdieck
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