the photoshooter's journey from taking to making


I thought of trying to capture the vastness of Manhattan’s Strand Bookstore in a single wide shot, but finally preferred this view, which suggests the complexity and size of the store’s labyrinthine layout. 1/40 sec., F/7.1, ISO 500 at 18mm.



THE FRAME OF AN IMAGE is the greatest instrument of control in the photographer’s kit bag, more critical than any lens, light or sensor. In deciding what will or won’t be populated inside that space, a shooter decides what a personal, finite universe will consist of. He is creating an “other” world by defining what is worthwhile to view, and he also creates interest and tension by letting the view contemplate what he chose to exclude. What finally lies beyond the frame is always implied by what lies inside it, and it is the glory of the invisible that invites his audiences inside his vision, ironically by asking them to consider what is unseen….in a visual medium.

Each choice of what to “look at” has, inherent in it, a decision on what to pare away. It is thus within the power of the photographer to make a small detail speak for a larger reality, rendering the bigger scene either vitally important or completely irrelevant based on his whim. Often the best rendition of the frame is arrived at only after several alternate realities have been explored or rejected.

Over a lifetime, I have often been reluctant to show less, or to choose tiny stories within larger tapestries. In much pictorial photography, “big” seems to serve as its own end. “More” looks like it should be speaking in a louder voice. However, by opting to keep some items out of the discussion, to, in fact, select a picture rather than merely record it, what is left in the frame may speak more distinctly without the additional noise of visual chatter.

“If I’d had more time”, goes the old joke, “I’d have written you a shorter letter”. Indeed, as I get older, I find it easier to try and define the frame with an editor’s eye, not to limit what is shown, but to enhance it. Sometimes, the entire beach is stunning.But, in other instances,a few grains of sand may more eloquently imply the beach, and so enable us to ¬†remember what amazing details combine in our apprehension of the world.



2 responses

  1. I have pondered this aspect of photography for years, wondering why it is so. Although I enjoyed snapping shots as a teen, it was a film appreciation class where I was bitten by the bug. The instructor was lecturing on the frame, how it is the frame, that the director exacts, and extracts his vision for the film. He went on to discuss composition, but the light bulb in my head had already gone off, and I got it, I got it, all in an instant. It’s all about the frame, what goes inside, where it goes, why, and most importantly, what doesn’t get included. Reading on how our eyes track an image, and how the brain processes them has also shed a little light onto this mystery. Did you know that your brain gives you a little chemical reward, a little dopomine I think it is, when you get the puchline to a joke OR you figure out a previously unknown object in a photo (or figure out what has been excluded from a frame?). Too cool, I thought. I use this bit of info everytime I shoot now. One musn’t reveal all to tell a story-a little mystery is a good thing! Loved this thoughtful article!

    April 30, 2012 at 11:08 AM

  2. Thanks for the comments. I find that I often find, among my many shots that “didn’t work”, a common problem……I had too much information in the frame, pulling the viewer’s eye onto too many conflicting paths. It takes all the discipline I have (and that isn’t much) to show less, to obey the command, “Simplify, simplify..” Sounds like your instructor was a wise man indeed.

    May 1, 2012 at 11:55 AM

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