Brooks Jensen Arts

Every Picture Is a Compromise

Lessons from the Also-rans

Most photography websites show the photographer's very best work. Wonderful. But that's not the full story of a creative life. If we want to learn, we'd better pay attention to the images that aren't "greatest hits" and see what lessons they have to offer. Every picture is a compromise — the sum of its parts, optical, technical, visual, emotional, and even cosmic – well, maybe not cosmic, but sometimes spiritual. Success on all fronts is rare. It's ok to learn from those that are not our best.

This is a series about my also-rans, some of which I've been able to improve at bit (i.e., "best effort"), none of which I would consider my best. With each there are lessons worth sharing, so I will.

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Empty Centers Week

Resisting "bull's eye" composition.

This week (again at the request of readers), I'll discuss images that avoid centering the subject in the middle of the frame — so-called "bull's eye" composition.

What I saw that I liked:

A rock wall with ferns growing out of it.

What I don't like in the picture:

The one above says "ferns" but doesn't say "rock wall."

What I learned:

Photography is about relationships. What is the relationship between a rock wall and a fern? Well first, which is bigger? The rock wall, of course, but not in the composition above. The ferns are dominant. But in the one at left, the rock wall dominates and that adds emotional content to the image. The fern is timid, tentative, fragile, inferior. Or it's protected. Either way, the photograph at left is more emotional than the one above.

The center of this composition again uses an empty center. It's the towering rock wall in the top half of the image that counts, not the center. It's that towering presence that give this image it's emotional content.