When me mention vision to most people, it’s understandable that they might readily think we’re simply speaking about having good eyesight . . . maybe 20/20 vision . . . probably not color blind or blind in one eye.
While all that may be interesting, it’s really not the subject of this discourse. Rather, my subject is more about how we view a scene as part of our photographic endeavors. What do we look for? How do we “construct” our images? How do we “see” the image we ultimately want a viewer to appreciate, before we click the shutter? What’s our vision for the elements we’ll present within the image frame, or won’t include for that matter?
These questions, and probably more, will be the subject of several upcoming posts through which I hope to explore the subject of photographic vision from several perspectives and share images that illustrate each. We’ll look at such vision related subjects as composition, contrast, the impact of light, using lines and texture, and ultimately, telling a story.
I didn’t mention the subject of “rules” because I’m going to touch on it briefly here and then put that subject behind us for the duration of the discussion.
When I say rules, I’m thinking about rules like “Always have the sun at your back,” “the Rule of Thirds,” “it’s preferred to under-expose a digital image,” “always employ leading lines,” “never put the horizon in the middle of your image,” or “Avoid symmetrical compositions” and there are many more so-called rules like these. To a certain extent, these are all rules that are good to know, especially for those just learning the art of photography. But, as the saying says, rules are made to be broken.
We can all find examples within our own images where we applied one or more of these rules, and it helped with our final communication of the scene before us. That said, we can also look at many images that could have been stronger if we had ignored one or more of them.
I prefer to think of rules, in photography, somewhat like the white lines that mark the sides of our roads. It’s certainly recommended that we stay between the lines but there are times when doing so might kill you. Knowing the “rules of the road” will typically help us reach our destination safely, but knowing when to ignore them, and cross the line, might prove to be very beneficial at times.
When we learn to drive, we pay “front of mind” attention to the lines on the road at first, but eventually, this attention becomes more automatic and we don’t often even think about it. The same is true with most of the “rules of photography,” probably more so than on the highway. As David duChemin says in his book, Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision, “The Rule of Thirds is a principle that can either be a compositional aid to achieving our vision or a rigid constraint that can rob our images of life and spontaneity. Rules seldom encourage the question ‘why?’ Principles can’t live without the Why.”
I think the same thing can be said about most “rules of photography” that we pretty much accept out of hand, as least when we’re first introduced to them. “Never put your subject dead center” for example. Yet, how often do we see images that are perfectly symmetrical or deliberately “bulls-eyed” and grab our attention because they are?
The “Rule of Thirds” may be the most ever-present of these rules. That tic-tac-toe grid we place over our images as we compose or critique compositions is well known to most of us. And, placing key elements in our images so that the lines intersect those elements or so that the elements are positioned where the lines themselves intersect, has to be considered a foundational principle of image design and composition. I’d bet that any experienced photographer looking back over his/her portfolio of images images will find that most of them pretty much adhere to the rule, even though we often didn’t even think about the rule when capturing these images.
At some point, if we seriously approach our photography, we were no longer satisfied to just be snap-shooters. We began making a conscious effort to apply “the rule.” Yet, as we grew as photographers, much like our experience learning to drive a car, following the rules soon became second nature.
In our photography we eventually discover there are times when we want to disregard the rules. Sometimes that because the rule doesn’t work for a specific image. Other times we discover that by ignoring the constrains of this rule or that, we are freed-up to create something special.
We learn the rules. We practice them. Eventually, we learn how to constructively break them. To my way of thinking, that’s a sign of growth as a photographer . . . knowing when the rule is a hindrance to the story we’re trying to tell with our image.
Next: telling a story.