the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

LESS SHOWS MORE

You don't have to reveal every stray pebble in perfect definition to get a sense of texture in this shot.

You don’t have to reveal every stray pebble or every dark area in perfect definition to get a sense of texture in this shot. 1/160 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

by MICHAEL PERKINS

THERE IS A WRONG-HEADED IDEA OUT THERE THAT ALL VISUAL OUTCOMES IN PHOTOGRAPHY SHOULD BE EQUAL. That’s a gob of words, so here’s what I’m getting at: higher ISO sensitivity, post-processing and faster lenses have all conspired, of late, to convince some of  us that we can, and should, rescue all detail in even the most constrasty images. No blow-outs in the sky, no mushiness in the midrange, no lost information in the darkest darks. Everything in balance, every iota of grain and pattern revealed.

Of course, that is very seductive. Look at a well-processed HDR composite made from multiple bracketed images, in which the view out the window is deep and colorful, and the shadowy interiors are rich with texture. We’ve seen people achieve real beauty in creating what is a compelling illusion. But, like every other technique, it can come to define your entire output.

It’s not hard to see shooters whose “style” is actually the same effect applied to damn near all they shoot, like a guy who dumps ketchup on everything his wife brings to the table. When you start to bend everything you’re depicting to the same “look”, then you are denying yourself a complete range of solutions. No one could tell you that you always have to shoot in flourescent light, or that deep red is the only color that conveys passion, so why let yourself feel trapped in the habit of using HDR or other processes to always “average out” the tonal ranges in your pictures? Aren’t there times when it makes sense to leave what I will call “mystery” in the undiscovered patches of shadow or the occasional areas of over-exposure?

Letting some areas of a frame remain in shadow actually tamps down the clutter in a busy image like this. 1/60 sec., f/3.2, ISO 100, 35mm.

Letting some areas of a frame remain in shadow actually tamps down the clutter in a busy image like this. 1/60 sec., f/3.2, ISO 100, 35mm.

I am having fun lately leaving the “unknowns” in mostly darker images, letting the eye explore images in which it can NOT clearly make out ultimate detail in every part of the frame. In the mind’s eye, less can actually “show” more, since the imagination is a more eloquent illustrator than any of our wonderful machines. Photography began, way back when, rendering its subjects as painters did, letting light fall where it naturally landed and leaving the surrounding blacks as deep pools of under-defined space. Far from being “bad” images, many of these subtle captures became the most hypnotic images of their era. It all comes down to breaking rules, then knowing when to break even the broken rule as well.

Within this post are two of the latest cases where I decided not to “show it all”. Call it the photo equivalent of a strip-tease. Once you reveal everything, some people think the allure is over. The point I’m making is that the subject should dictate the effect, never the other way around. Someone else can do their own takes on both of these posted pictures, take the opposite approach to everything that I tried, and get amazing results.

There never should be a single way to approach a creative problem.  How can there be?

Follow Michael Perkins on Twitter @thenormaleye. 

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