I shot this image while I was walking around the Haymarket district in Lincoln early last week. I was killing time before meeting up with some candidates I was recruiting, and the combination of the late morning light, the orange brick, and the blue sky was capturing my attention.
I was wandering through the Haymarket and playing around with a few compositions when I happened to pass by another photographer. She was young – probably a college student – and she was using some kind of Canon DSLR to take some close-up shots of a door. She was really close to the door, and it seemed as though she was trying to eliminating distracting elements from her frame by moving even closer.
I empathized with her struggle.
Photographers – and particularly street and landscape photographers – constantly battle with distracting elements. This is somewhat unique in the world of art. Painters and drawers simply avoid putting distracting elements on the canvas. Writers don’t add unnecessary words. Musicians don’t add unnecessary notes. For these artists, it’s a matter of adding something of value. For street and landscape photographers, we not only have to find something of value but we also must find ways to eliminate that which is not valuable.
This is not easy.
“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” – Albert Einstein
This girl was obviously not winning in her struggle to eliminate. We photographers really only have three tools at our disposal to eliminate: movement, focal length, and depth of field. She was using the first two (and given the subject matter, I don’t think a shallow depth of field was really an option), but she appeared to be running into the key limitation of these options: they change the rest of the image. Moving and zooming can help eliminate distractions, but they also change the perspective, compression, distortion, etc. of the subject – the part you’re trying to keep. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it detracts from the value of the subject. I suppose there’s a fourth tool that could work in this case: Photoshop. But where’s the fun in that?
As I moved on and let this girl continue with her battle, I reflected on the compositions I had been making so far in the Haymarket. They were all too complex. I would begin framing something that caught my eye, but I’d inevitably be partially cutting off some distracting element. I had a prime lens, so zooming wasn’t an option. I was trying to capture entire scenes, so shallow depth of field wasn’t an option. That left me with movement, but as I would move in an attempt to eliminate the distracting elements, that would change the perspective amongst the important aspects of the frame and would inevitably ruin their relationship with one another. So then I’d try to find a way to incorporate that distracting element into the scene and try to make it part of the story. This led to cluttered, incoherent images.
In all of these cases, I needed to just let go of the images I was trying to make. I was trying to force something when I didn’t have the right tools at my disposal. What I needed to do was find a scene that encapsulated what was valuable about the world around me that could be captured with the tools I had. So I returned to that which was capturing my attention in the first place: the combination of the late morning light, the orange brick, and the blue sky. I looked around for about 10 seconds and then made the image in this post.
This is a series about a photographic tool. And in the midst of gushing over how excellent of a tool it is, it can be easy to forget that no tool is right for every situation. There’s a fine balance between trying to coerce the world into the mold that fits your tool (if you have a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail) and trying to make your tool do something it can’t. It takes judgment to know what the right balance is between these two extremes. I’ve been trying to cultivate this judgment by alternating between artificially limiting my tool options and giving myself access to my whole array of film/digital/medium format/crop sensor cameras, lenses, filters, etc.
For the most part, it seems to be working. So when this 30 Days with the Fuji X-T2 series is over, be on the lookout for some medium format film images… 😉