One of the keys to creating a strong composition is, naturally enough, letting your audience know exactly what your intention was when you were taking the picture. If someone has to ask what it is you were trying to show, dude, you’ve missed the boat somewhere. One of the simplest ways to give your photos more impact is, interestingly enough, to make them simpler. And, of course, one way to simplify any picture is to get closer to it. The question is: What is close enough? Ahh, that’s where concepts turn into judgments calls: it’s up to you to decide just how close you want to be (or not be).
When I spotted this photo idea at the very nice Caramoor Museum and Gardens in Katonah, New York, I knew almost immediately that I wanted to shoot this big urn. And I knew that I wanted that beautiful and ornate gold and black gate in the background to be a part of the shot. So I composed a shot (using my tripod, naturally) to include the entire urn and most of the gate. Nice shot. It looked nice on the LCD and I still like it. But then I thought that putting those geraniums in the foreground might be creating too much of a distraction and diminishing the impact of the gate. So, poof, I zoomed in a touch and got rid of the flowers. What the heck, as long as I had the original shot I wanted captured, I might as well shoot a bunch of variations.
As it turns out, it’s a good thing I did. I’m using the middle shot above in the revision of my book The Joy of Digital Photography (Lark Photography Book) and while we tried to use the top shot first, the reds and greens were giving the printer trouble (too much saturation, partly, but also just very strong contrasting colors) and so rather than just try to tweak that file, we chose the middle shot. With the reds and greens gone from the foreground the shot will almost certainly reproduce better.
The third shot was just a variation that I thought might be useful in a lesson (like this one) to show that even when you think you are close, you can still take a giant step closer–and still come up with a nice shot. I call it the Giant Step Theory (well, actually, I just thought of that name, but you get the point). While the gate is completely gone and there is no real foreground, it’s still a neat shot and in some ways I like it the best. One small step for you, one giant step for your photographs.
Is any one of these shots better than the other? It really depends on the use and what you like (or what you like at the moment–my preference on this keeps changing). But since digital is free and since you only have to move a few feet (or zoom a bit more) to give your self a variety of options, go ahead, shoot the wide shot and then take a giant step or two forward….as long as you’re not shooting from the end of a dock.
Text and photos by photographer and best selling author Jeff Wignall. Jeff has an upcoming book aboutdigital photography basics, find out more about him and his work at Jeff Wignall