Addition by Subtraction
A curious set of events happened in the last week which helped drive home an important aspect of photography for me. I was talking to my friend and mentor Scott Griessel and he explained to me the difference between painting and photography. Painting is a process of addition. The artist starts with a blank canvas and adds only the layers and details he or she wants to be in the final piece. In photography, it is usually, but not always, the opposite. The photographer often arrives on scenes fully formed, and has to decide which details and aspects to focus in on, and at the same time is deciding to remove everything else. We manage the final image as much but what is left out as by what is included.
A couple days after this conversation, I was reminded of what Scott had said when my friend and incredibly talented model Natasha Marie Rogerson changed her Facebook profile picture to a photo from me from my first photo walk with Tucson Aspiring Professional Photographers. I had just bought my first DSLR and started in photography a couple months before the photo walk, and this my first time working with a model and engaging with people I didn’t already know through photography. I was using a crop frame Nikon D5500 with a 70-300mm lens, no reflectors or external lights, and thoroughly intimidated by everyone around me whom I was sure all knew exactly what they were doing while I was still trying to not overexpose everything. So I stood back and shot away without actually engaging with Natasha and got the shot you can see at the top of this page, and still one of my favorite shots. Every time I see it it makes me think of a woman looking out to see if a loved one is coming or not, and I am reminded of Humphrey Bogart waiting for Ingrid Bergman on a train platform in Paris. Ok, maybe you don’t see that, but trust me, it’s there.
So how did I get to that picture that so perfectly captures the mood of a train station in war torn France (at least to me)? Below is an image showing the whole scene, on a Tucson street with cars in way, other photographers shooting other models in the background, crooked telephone poles ruining backgrounds. The second picture is the shot above before any editing. I was pretty far away shooting 300 mm, and you can still see part of the car, and a photog walking in the background.
The final shot removed everything that wasn’t important. A zoom lens got me around the crooked poles, and most of the background people. And then in editing a had to crop pretty tight to create an image that evoked a desired emotion, rather than just making people wonder why Natasha is standing in the middle of the street.
And that’s the job of the photographer, bringing focus to a subject by removing everything else. Zoom lenses, bokeh, shadows, cropping- are all used to eliminate distraction and draw attention to the one point.
Until we throw out all the rules and tell a story by including everything we can fit in the frame, but that will be discussed at another time.