What You Don’t Know about the Rule of Thirds #3
Go for economy of expression
When I started studying photography in college, one of the photographers whose work really blew me away was Henri Cartier-Bresson. I was so astounded by his sense of composition: his images were succinct and concise, yet very expressive. The “leanness” of his images seemed to eliminate all waste, allowing the subject and intentions of the photograph to shine effortlessly through.
It was through his work that I finally understood “the economy of expression,” an idea which would change the way I practice photography from that point forward.
Subtract, subtract, subtract
In order to achieve this, you really need to take the clutter out and reduce all non-essential elements in your images to a bare minimum. Ideally, everything in your frame should be intentionally placed, including “happy accidents.”
A good way to approach this is to treat your viewfinder like your painter’s canvas. Everything that shows up in it should be intentional, because nothing shows up unintentionally when you’re painting.
In reality, of course, photography is quite different from painting. While a painter’s canvas is blank when he or she begins, a photographer’s canvas is filled with stuff. In other words, you’re starting out with chaos, and it is your job to make sense of out it.
So unlike in painting, which is an additive process, a photographer must continue to subtract, reducing the elements in the frame one by one, until left with only what is essential. Good photographers are constantly editing their pictures in this way, looking for things that they are interested in, while eliminating the clutter that surrounds them.
What are you interested in showing, really?
This is a really great question to ask yourself all the time, since, more often than not, we are not being critical enough. We tend to photograph casually, hoping that we’ll be able to explain the photo with our “verbal caption,” and if that fails, sometimes resorting to a 5-minute presentation on how difficult it was to get the shot. Sounds familiar?
I am in the camp that believes that a photograph should express what you are interested in VISUALLY, not verbally. Your photograph needs to make it clear to viewers without confusion (unless that is your intention) exactly what it is that you are (and they should be) interested in.
To start, you’ll have to make sure it is crystal clear to YOU what you want to show. Because if it’s not clear to you, the chances are good that it is not clear to others.
This question of what you are trying to show should be a constant preoccupation when you’re engaged in creating something. This is something that there is no shortcut for, and (sorry to break it to you) it takes quite a bit of time to get good at. So you’d better start soon!
In my next post, I’ll explain how once you figure out what is important to you, you should organize your picture so that the main idea of your photograph will stand out without anything else getting in the way.
Let me know what you think about this post. Happy photographing!