Eliminate the Irrelevant from your Photographs

Years ago the Hasselblad camera company put out a series of photography pamphlets. While I had my Hasselblad I collected and studied the information contained in the pamphlets. Last week I thumbed through one of them entitled “The Eye, The Camera, The Image”. Although meant for medium format film cameras its filled with information that is still appropriate for digital camera users.

I skimmed over topics like Using the focusing hood magnifier, Colour film and light colour, Types of exposure measurement, X synchronization, Double exposure and Polaroid film, all an interesting read if one is concerned with photographic history, however, not practical or useful for those searching to be a better photographer in the 21st century.

One topic entitled “We see far to much” says, “The eye is our organ of sight. It’s lens has a focal length of about 17mm and covers a 150-degree vertical and 120 degree horizontal field; the binocular vision provided by our two eyes gives a 180-degree angular field. We seldom have any need for images encompassing so wide a field. The wealth of detail in such a field would be rendered small and insignificant when reduced to images formed in a camera when composing a photograph outdoors or elsewhere. We always need to crop our field of view.”

That paragraph is valuable in my opinion. Most successful photographers “tighten up” on their composition, and by that, I mean they only include those elements that add to the visual statement of a photograph. Beginners, however, and especially those using point and shoot cameras (and certainly, not only confined to them) aim with only the excitement of their subject in mind and don’t pay attention to other additional elements captured by the sensor.

Photographers are surprised when they look at their final image and find a picture filled with irrelevant and disruptive items needing to be cropped out. If they just took their time, moved closer or zoomed-in the lens they would have had an attractive composition in-camera.

Hasselblad continues, “This elimination of irrelevance is vital. The trick often involves excluding most of what you see. Making a selection is a basic feature of all art, whether it is painting, drawing or photography. Art consists of picking out the most interesting, most illustrative, most instructive, the loveliest or most emotional components among a myriad of components in a subject.”

Photographers must train themselves to be specific with a subject, only showing the viewer what is important. How do we slow down to do this in an age of auto focus, auto aperture and rapid-fire shutter release? I have an easy answer – get a good tripod!

I know many photographers have never owned or used a tripod and some have only used rickety, inexpensive models. My comment to anyone that says they don’t like tripods is they never have used a good one. Using a sturdy, well-made tripod makes one slow down and pay attention to the subject in the viewfinder or LCD. In addition, the process of setting up the tripod and attaching a camera gives photographers time to think about the composition. I accept Hasselblad’s contention that “we see far to much” and need to eliminate irrelevant items in our compositions.

When a neat and interesting subject is seen, stop the car and get out. Don’t be lazy and merely hunker down against the window and take the shot. Get that sturdy tripod out of the trunk; and as you do that think about, or “previsualize”, the photograph about to be made. Set up the tripod, attach the camera and look through the viewfinder or LCD. I suggest making several shots starting from a narrow, limited view and zooming the lens out to a wide-angle view. That way there will be several choices for that picture.

To sum up, eliminate those elements inconsequential to the picture and compose for only those items important to the final photograph, not by looking at the subject and snapping away in a hurried fashion to include everything seen in the viewfinder or LCD; and take my advice, use a tripod.

4 responses to “Eliminate the Irrelevant from your Photographs

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