You know all those little fun bits that illustrators tuck into their drawings and paintings? The birds that shows up in every illustration, the signs on every door, the meaningful numbers that make sense when you read to the end? Well, those features are a tad harder to plop into a photo. But photographers can seek to add those extra, nourishing elements, too, if they know ahead of time they are working on a book.
When I photographed Rah, Rah, Radishes, I was just beginning to hone my photography and content in this way. For that book, I tried to photograph at booths that had signs that brought forth good math content, nutrition and farm messages. No, I did not write them. Those signs were there. Nonfiction photography is a matter of choice, as my thousands of unused photos can attest. But for the subsequent book, Go, Go, Grapes, I did more still lifes, here and there, to fill in produce that I could not find in the same photo in the markets and small stores.
Yet I didn’t really understand the power of what I could do until I was in an IKEA in Chicago selecting some props for Let’s Go Nuts: Seeds We Eat. Perhaps it’s because I have so many math teachers in my life but when I saw the red measuring cups and spoons, I thought: AHHHH! Yes! That’s when I realized I wanted to add cool stuff whenever possible...math fractions, quantities, geographic context, cultural context. Things that would make bounce readers to fun activities. I have only begun to push in this direction. It’s a matter of trial and error and learning what works for audiences at this young level. It’s not what a really cool graph can do for synergy but it is layering some more deliciousness into the work.
|Measuring cups are in the book!
After the measuring cup moment, I kinda went, um, nuts, organizing photos with extra content not covered in the text: extra information about patterns, foods, and eating local foods. (Note: only some were organized in this way. Many were photographed onsite at the market or store.) But if you look closely you will find mathematical patterns of repetition and grouping.
|Colors and patterns for early childhood teachers may use
At times, I inserted food made from the focal seed into the photo. Sometimes I overdid this. The cutting room floor is littered with photos I carefully arranged to show both coconut and coconut milk, both red bean and Chinese red bean bun and mung bean pastry, and the like. (But even in the final book there are some of these extra bits for readers who want to extend. That page of rices has rice pastas of many sorts in it.)
|Photo experiment discarded. Bean rolls, however, not discarded! Yum!
|Experiments for various photographs
LAYERS OF CONTENT IN PHOTOS IN NATURE
Despite my journey into food chants, most of the photography I do is in the wild: out in nature, not in still lifes. But those book can have “extras,” too. Sometimes you find them by accident. Thanks to digital cameras, we can take thousands of photos and sometimes hit ones that have those “teachable nuggets” for a book or slideshow. Last week I was sorting hundreds of seagull photos when I noticed this one with a band.
Soon I found out that there’s a government site www.reportband.gov you can contact to report bird bands. Within a few days, they’d sent me this nice certificate and information that my bird, photographed at the ferry near Williamsburg, VA, had been banded in Quebec!
That was a lucky break. Mostly, layers in photography develop from sweat and time. You just have to be there, and stay there, and stand there, and walk there, until the right moment happens.
For my latest book, Raindrops Roll, which will be out in 2015, I spent five months photographing raindrops. Raindrops on butterfly antenna, raindrops on soggy bees, raindrops on seedpods, and frogs, and the like. The text is simple. The bulk of what I wanted to say about scale, moisture, mass, weight, mushrooms popping up after rain and so on, will have to be carried by the photos because the editor and I edited some of that text out of the book. The photography took endless stomping in rain-filled boots, dripping with raindrops and my hair a rippled hygrometer from being out in humidity. I loved it. A bit can be expanded in the endmatter but my hope is that the photos will carry the message the young, carved-to-the-bone text cannot contain.
One of the things about picture book text and illustration is the immense love and care (obsessive need for perfection?) that goes into it. For illustrators, including photographers, the work takes gobs of experimentation. Editors, designers, art directors often do their share of the tinkering, too. They give comments and they’ve been known to print out, tape up, move around things as part of the process. In a great team, everyone is on board, with that kind of care.
For the photographer, the responsibility is to GET OUT THERE. And, of course, carry your camera. Nothing replaces just putting in time. That’s the only way you’ll get something special: something that will help your reader find new colors and connections in your content.