Notes on Photography

The Box

Photography shouldn’t be about gimmicks. Instead, great photography is about nature, art, emotion, time, pure form, and space. It is the frame inside the frame, the absence of clutter, and ultimately the release of self. Inside the box I can lead or follow, direct the eye, and release the viewer to nothing but form, without a beginning or an end.

Which is more difficult? For me the release, when done correctly, is far more sensitive, and ultimately more difficult than leading. To in a sense paint, with only shape, light, and form, and do it in such a way that the eye continues to circle the box, only to return the viewer, this is a stunning challenge. To happen upon grace is a given that any photographer who shoots a great many photos can achieve, but to set out to find this place within his or herself and the camera is pure art.

Leading, when done perfectly is also of great value. Without knowing it, a leading photo will guide the viewer’s eye from a start to a finish. They simply don’t have any choice. It’s like putting a little power, a magnet inside the box.

There is a third photograph to look at. This is the biggest box, and the one that fails the most. Let me back up. Many amateur photographs give you a beginning but not an end. Take the classic snapshot of the woman standing in front of a scenic location. She is standing, smiling, and centered in the photo, with an abundance of headroom. Say 35 percent of the photo is sky. The eye naturally starts on her face and then starts to travel the box, except there is nowhere to go. After a few attempts the eye gets bored, comes back to the smiling face, and then looks away, forgetting the photo forever. There is another way.

 The scene is the same. A pretty background of fields and flowers, but this time the woman is placed to the extreme left of the box. Part of her body is actually cut off and her entire person, from her head to her feet fills the left side frame with only a little space at the top and bottom. In the bottom right corner there is an especially colorful flower that comes into frame and then a series of sparse flowers, decreasing in clarity and color within the rest of frame. This time the eye starts on her face, travels around the frame to the bottom right flower, then to the middle, tracing the other flowers and then pulls back to take in the photograph as a whole. The next pass might start on the flower in the bottom right, travel the other way up the body, from her feet to her face and then follow the trail through the middle of the photo. The viewer is intrigued, and starts the process in another place and then another. This all happening within one photograph, inside just one box. You can’t forget this image, it stays with you, and makes you want to go back and see it again. To show it to others to get they’re response. Where did they start? How did it make them feel? The bi-product of great framing is a great image, and one that brings joy to share with others.

Centering: So, you’re thinking, what, I should never center anything? Of course not. A centered subject can be just as powerful as playing with thirds, but it must be done on purpose. Many times a centered photo is the right answer, and in turn, forcing a person or object to the side is not, and can look, well, forced. The point is, and I continue to work on this myself, is playing the box with purpose, in your head, before you take the picture. Only then do I experience the pure joy in editing where I took a photo with purpose, on purpose. Of course happy accidents and experimenting have their own beauty, but that is for another time.