Getting Close 

Cowboy hats Not eaxctly bullet proof

Ford V8

c. Cat & Car

Blue bottles

People watching Ocean Tree

Watching the Rodeo



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, 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.”

Do Something Different with your Photography

I advise photographers to stick by the rules of composition and exposure to make successful photographs. But there is another valuable lesson that I don’t always discuss with photographers, and that is to experiment with their equipment and the photography they are producing and that subject came up during a discussion with a photographer that stopped by my shop last week.  His lament was “everyone’s a photographer now days and most of what I see (I think he was talking about the city he lived in) is pretty much the same…and I feel like I am just one of that crowd.”

I suggested trying to do photography in a different way, and to disregard advice from others and begin a personal exploration of creating and experimenting with photography to make something totally new and different from what is most comfortable.  Push the envelope and, in doing that, become more aware of what you are capable of doing, as well as what the equipment you own is capable of doing.

The famous photographer Ansel Adams once said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”.   I think that we might take the time to do just that.  Consider alternative and unique perspectives when photographing a new subject and try different camera techniques and try equipment you haven’t tried before.

That might be as simple as trying to shoot only from a tripod for a time period. If you don’t have own a tripod, borrow one, and make a commitment to use it for every photograph you take for the next month. Some times you’ll hate it, sometimes you’ll love it; but the outcome will be learning to “make pictures” in a different way.

Or perhaps, and maybe more difficult, select something that wouldn’t normally be considered a subject.  Use your camera to really photograph it and try angles that make people wonder if you have lost your mind. The opinion as to whether the photographs are successful will be yours, since the only opinion that really counts is yours when you have crawled through the dirt and photographed that flagpole from its base looking straight up through the flowers around it as a black crow flies overhead.

Try to be expressive with your photography.  When you photograph something think about getting rid of anything that complicates it.  Simplify, simplify, simplify.  Go for a minimalist effect.  I remember a photojournalist in the 1970’s telling me that the words he thought of before photographing a subject was “tighten up”.

Try a different way of photography and using light. See what happens when the color balance is absolutely wrong, or the lighting produces unusual colors and you photograph just the oddly colored items. One might carefully observe the lighting and wait.  Wait until it affects a subject in an interesting, and maybe better yet, in an incredible way.  Waiting for the light takes patience and that could mean waiting an hour, an afternoon, or all day for the light to become what a photographer wants when looking for something different.

Experimental photographs “made” from these efforts will have us thinking outside the box and when others view photos so different from what we normally produce it is they who probably won’t understand.  That’s a good thing because our objective to be different will have been achieved, and most importantly, we will have learned something new about photography.

One of the outstanding features of digital cameras is how delightfully easy and helpful they can be when experimenting.   The only real cost for to try something completely different with a digital camera is the time and effort.  Look at your images on a computer screen and decide if each worked for you or not.  I expect the result will not be boring and you will have learned more about, not only, how your camera works and responds, as well as any other equipment you tried for the first time, and you will likely have learned more about light, shadow, composition, and exposure.

You might well develop a way of photography that starts with the question, “How can I photograph my subject in such a way that makes it different?”

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