Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Photography Is About Subtraction

Less is more. Simplicity is better. Photography is more about what isn't included in the frame than what is.

Photography is more like sculpting than painting. A sculptor chisels away everything that doesn't belong until only the finished sculpture is left. That's what photographers must do: remove everything from the frame until only what is necessary to the photograph remains.
A Bakersfield Sunset - Bakersfield, California
Nikon D3300 with Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8 Micro lens1/125, f5, ISO 800
Take the photograph above, for example. It's an oil pump at sunset. Very simple. What you don't see is that this was in the middle of a city. This oil pump was found in a shopping center parking lot. There are trees and buildings and telephone lines. There's a tall fence in the foreground. This photograph was not about the city, so all the things that said "city" would have been a distraction. I removed all of that clutter from the composition.

It wasn't easy to remove all of the unnecessary stuff from the frame. I had to hold the camera up above my head to remove the foreground fence. I then had to find just the right angle so that the trees, buildings and powerless were not included. Those things are out of sight, just off frame (to the left, right and below).

The photograph is so much stronger without the distractions. It is much better as a simple image.

Bakersfield is known for oil and agriculture. Those two things are huge in the area. Because of that, air quality isn't great, but those particulates in the air make for great sunsets. Oil and sunsets are two things that symbolize Bakersfield.

There is a secondary meaning--one that is more metaphoric. Falling oil prices have hurt the local oil business. There's been a reduction in production, and that has meant layoffs. The sun is setting on the oil industry in Bakersfield, California--at least for now.

All of that is found in a simple image with a simple message. A small change in the composition would have meant a big change in the outcome of the photograph, and it would not have been for the better.

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