Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I Dunno... Stick it in the Corner, I Guess

Something that distinguishes painting from the vast bulk of photography is what I think of as total control of the frame, which is a terrible clumsy phrase. Sorry. Anyways, the idea is that obviously a painter is deliberately putting things into the frame, at deliberate places. This becomes obvious when you start looking at the overall frame as a design. In general, you can summarize a painting in a handful of strong lines. There is a design, a skeleton on which the details are hung, and that design is generally pretty pleasing.

Botticelli's Venus:

Whistler's Mother:

da Vinci, The Last Supper:

One of Monet's Waterlilies:

This is what most internet-famous photographers do instead. Not all the time, but altogether too often for comfort:

Just stick the subject in the corner and let the rest of the junk fall where it may. The difference between the "good" ones and the "bad" ones is that the "good" photographers are better at emphasizing the thing in the corner.

Find a lighted doorway in a dim scene. Place the doorway in one of the corners, and wait for someone to walk through it. Burn and dodge in post as necessary to make the silhouetted figure stand out, and de-emphasize the rest of the disorganized junk in the frame. Find a boat on a body of water and shove it in a lower corner. Wait for some interesting clouds to turn up. Find a more or less random array of windows. Wait for someone to pop their head out of one, place that window in a corner and let the rest fall where they may. Click.

I dunno, just stick it in the corner.

This is one reason why we're constantly told to "isolate the subject". If you can simply make the rest of the frame effectively blank, then it looks like you're doing your job. These next photos exhibit a total failure to organize the background. In lieu of actually making a good picture, they're "isolating the subject" and floating some random element, whether good or bad is irrelevant, on an essentially blank page.

Kevin Raber:

Michael Reichmann:

Ming Thein:

This is also why shooting wide open is seen as desirable. If you can't just bang your subject up against a large blank wall, or a flat sheet of water, you can at least render the background a more or less uniform blur. Beats the hell out of finding a point of view that organizes it, or giving up the shot, eh?

The difference between actually good photos and bubble-good photos is that the rest of the frame is also organized. I cannot do it in the field to save my life, but I can sometimes manage it in the studio.

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