Marilyn Monroe by Philippe Halsman, 1952
Photo credit: © WestLicht Photographica Auction

Marilyn Monroe by Philippe Halsman, 1952

Life Magazine Cover photo by the legendary Philippe Halsman, a Russian born, American portrait photographer.

His 1961 book Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas, discussed ways for photographers to produce unusual pieces of work by following six rules:

  1. "the rule of the direct approach,"
  2. "the rule of the unusual technique,"
  3. "the rule of the added unusual feature,"
  4. "the rule of the missing feature,"
  5. "the rule of compounded features,"
  6. "the rule of the literal or ideographic method."

In his first rule, Halsman explains that being straightforward and plain creates a strong photograph.

To make an ordinary and uninteresting subject interesting and unusual, his second rule lists a variety of photographic techniques, including unusual lighting, unusual angle, unusual composition, etc.

The rule of the added unusual feature is an effort by the photographer to capture the audiences attention by drawing their eye to something unexpected by introducing an unusual feature or prop into the photograph. For example, the photograph of a little boy holding a hand grenade by Diane Arbus contains what Halsman would call an added unusual feature.

Halsman's fourth rule of "the missing feature" stimulates the viewer by going against his or her expectations.

The fifth rule enlists the photographer to combine the other rules to add originality to his or her photo.

Finally, Halsman's literal or ideographic method is to illustrate a message in a photograph by depicting the subject as clearly as possible.