If there is anyone in the Shutter Photo at Flickr Group that is unquestionably passionate about photography, it would be our very own perennial, Sue Thompson. We’ve watched Sue’s work for years, and she does not disappoint. She is the most contributing member of the group with a staggering 405 photos as of this writing, and she is possibly the person we’ve featured – or at least mentioned – here the most. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We love and admire Sue Thompson’s work because her passion shines through in every photograph. She is a perpetual student of photography, and strives to learn, expand and improve her skills with every opportunity (and very often her photos’ titles are a clear indication of some lesson). Bottom line, she is inspiring and that is why I will bring you yet another one of her photos. This time her photo, Bingo: Fill the Frame, explores a compositional rule of thumb, as the name implies.
Regular readers of Shutter Photo are well aware of my thoughts on learning composition. Specifically, I am not a huge fan of drilling the rules into someone’s head before they ever pick up a camera. I feel that most compositional rules get in the way of our natural learning process. And I believe these rules are only intended to understand, comprehend and analyze compositions that are already in existence. Bottom line, most compositional rules can be misleading and a bit overwhelming to an inexperienced photographer, which is why I tend to speak against them. But there is one simple rule of thumb (not an official compositional rule) that Sue’s photo demonstrates quite nicely: Fill the Frame. The Fill the Frame rule is simple, easy to use and very beneficial for many young photographers.
So why does Fill the Frame work? As I said, it’s not a true compositional rule, though it has become a mantra around the web and within many new-age photography books. But you will never find the rule mentioned in classic photo books on composition. I like to refer to it as a trick – a way to make the serious compositional rules irrelevant. It’s not that they don’t apply anymore, but it makes them less obvious to the viewer. The rule of thirds is easily ignored when the subject fills the entire frame. Balance matters little when negative space doesn’t come into play. And while the Golden Mean certainly has its influences, it is often overlooked by the sheer awe of the amount of detail yielded in such a close-up shot. The observer simply ignores all other rules when shown a photograph that provides so many other features to admire. So in the end, the Fill the Frame rule of thumb is really just a way to trick the observer’s mind into ignoring everything else.
I’d like to point out another inspiring aspect of this photo that is so painfully obvious that it is likely overlooked: This is an interesting photo of a sculpture – art featuring art. We often feature other art forms within our own work, sculpture possibly being the most featured. As an artist with respect for the other artist’s creation, it is sometimes difficult for us to work with such a subject. We are almost inclined to take the photojournalist’s approach, documenting the sculpture for what it is. Getting in close and focusing on one tiny aspect of the sculpture is not likely our first thought. But it is often the best thought. I have no idea the actual scale or size of this sculpture, but it’s clear to me that it’s more than just a face or a bust. Sue has delivered all of the emotion intended by the sculpture’s artist through one very tightly cropped photo. Her use of depth of field not only gives us a sense of scale and orientation, but it also yields the softness that mimics that of the sculpture’s presentation itself. Had this been shot with a large depth of field – let’s assume the chin line were a hard line – the emotion of the child would not be communicated so well.