Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How low can you go?

Photography, like most art, benefits from brutal and ruthless editing. How much can be cut out in order to focus attention on the main subject? Removing as many possible distraction and detractions as possible from the frame results in a photograph with much more impact.

So, how low can you go? How simple can a photograph be while communicating the photographer’s intent to the viewer? The answer is: much simpler than many photographers think.

There are many routes to simplicity and maximum visual impact. Controlling depth-of-field with lens aperture to eliminate background distractions is common. Bright spots in the background, even if very de-focused, also draw attention and need to be controlled. Colors can be distracting(hence the emotional and graphic impact of black-and-white photography) and can often be controlled by careful choice of viewpoint(remember that monochrome images can be blue-and-white or red-and-white as well as black-and-white). Lines and shapes that break through the edges of the frame can draw attention away from the main subject and lessen impact. Clutter(aka “too much stuff”) within the frame makes it difficult for a viewer to figure out what the main subject of the photograph is supposed to be.

Great photographers use the same editing process for every frame as writers use for every article. Avoid giving too much information at once(keep each frame and each article focused on one subject). Remove all clutter not contributing to the intended idea or emotion (i.e. visual “clutter”, “fluff” adjectives, more than one point of focus, etc…). Always know before tripping the shutter what the main subject of that frame is.

Tripods are a great editing tool for photographers. Using a tripod slows down the process of making a photo. More attention can be paid to the edges of the frame, to the background and to the content of the frame. Depth-of-field can be checked. Point of view can be minutely adjusted for the most impact and fewest distractions.

Make a habit of using these techniques and more “ooh’s” and “ah’s” will come your way. Photos containing just enough information to get the intended across to the viewer have much greater visual and emotional impact than photos containing too much information(remember the old Police song?). These ideas are what is really behind the old maxim “if you want better photographs, get closer”.

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