There is an old saying in photography that goes, “ If your photographs aren’t good enough, it’s probably because you aren’t close enough”.
I remember saying this to a young photographer, who became somewhat alarmed and responded, “You mean I should stop using my wide angle and shoot with a telephoto instead?” However, that isn’t what that long time photography quote is about.
What that means is that a photograph should be about something. That the photographer should discard, crop out, or, when making the original capture, move in close enough so that those elements visible in the image are the only things that relate to the photograph.
When I was just a young photographer I would question other photographers who I felt were successful at their craft for ideas that would make my photographs better, and I remember the following advice by a working photojournalist.
He talked about pre-visualizing a photograph (a term Ansel Adams and Minor White coined regarding the importance of imagining in your mind’s eye what you want the final print to reveal about a subject), and continued that a photographer should follow the rules of composition with all the elements in the scene, and finally told me I should always think about stepping closer to “tighten up” the image.
His advice came from a time period when very few photographers were using mutifocal or “zoom” lenses. In that time period quality glass and sharp images depended on fixed focal length lenses, or the more modern term is “prime” lens.
I will not go into a discussion of prime versus zoom lenses. Some people enjoy arguing about equipment, and they will pull out charts and make lots of tests to prove their point of view. Personally, I select a lens with which I am comfortable with and that I think will help me do the best job for the work at hand.
Getting closer changes the perspective and builds a relationship between the foreground and background. With a wide-angle or 50mm lens, the elements in the foreground become more important, and with telephoto’s 200mm and longer, they become less important and, as in a scenic taken with, say a 100mm, everything seems to have equal importance.
Teach yourself to look at the many features inside your composition. Start with the centre of interest or main subject, decide what in that composition relates to that centre of interest and then step closer to remove areas and features that have no relationship or interfere with whatever you want your viewer to concentrate upon.
Pre-visualise what you want to say visually and get closer to remove everything that doesn’t relate to the composition.
I remember reading an article written by a photographer I really enjoy, Ron Bigelow, www.ronbigelow.com. In an article he discussed his experience shooting with another photographer. However it was his summary that made me stop and think, “I couldn’t help thinking of some of the extraordinary images that I have seen from various large format photographers. It was obvious to me that much of what I admired in their images had nothing to do with the very high resolution that their equipment produced. Rather, it had everything to do with the time that they put into each image. The observing, thinking, and preparation that occurred before they fired their first shot.”