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“The best way out is always through.”

Friday, May 22, 2009

Put the Entire Frame to Work

Strangely enough, one of the toughest subjects for me to photograph is my own perennial garden. Part of the problem is that I'm so self-critical of the mess I've made of my garden most years, but also it's just that with so many different things in bloom (especially at this time of year), it's hard to know where to begin shooting. If you try to take in too much the shots get confusing, if you take in too little (a single blossom) you really have to be on your game and it's a lot of work to get a great shot of just one blossom.

The thing I've learned that weakens a lot of my garden shots though is leaving empty space: too much foliage, too few flowers. So I try now to make every corner of the frame do some work--in the exact same way that I try to make every corner of the garden do some work (can you tell I put a lot of demands on my poor flowers?). I try to use the old photography adage that just when you think you're close enough to your subject, take another step forward. For shots like this one to work and for the flowers to each get a prominent role, you really have to squeeze as much as you can into the frame. I love the way the three groups of flowers in this shot (poppies, aliums and Japanese iris) each bring their pocket of color to the shot and all are surrounded by similar green foliage.

The concept of filling the frame to the edges is just as important in other types of subjects, ranging from still lifes to landscapes to architecture. While I appreciate (and use) the beauty of empty space and "negative space" in my shots, I also like the layering and intrigue that are offered by filling the frame to the brim. If you are going to leave emptpy space in a shot though, try to put it along the edges of the frame, that way if you change your mind later you can crop it away. If you leave a big empty space in the middle, you're either going to have a big whole in the center or you'll have to get really good at using the clone tool to fill it up...and I've done that, too, at times but please don't tell anyone.

By the way, I think the best inspiration there is for garden and flower photography are the paintings of Claude Monet, particularly his gardens at Giverny. You can tell from looking at his paintings that Monet struggled with the same concepts of composition: what to leave in, what to take out. It's a battle he obviously won.

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