It’s difficult to prevent our left brain from taking over in our photography, especially when it comes to the framing of usbjects. The left brain is the side that is responsible for logic, patterns and symbols. And while it certainly has it’s place in photography, when it comes to framing or setting up a shot – the artistic aspect of photography – the left brain needs to be benched. This is where the chaotic right brain thrives and where it should shine. In particular, when it comes to framing up subjects, the left brain likes to see the whole picture – it likes for the subject to match a symbol, an image in one’s mind that most closely resembles the object in an identifiable manner. Joke is on the left brain, however, because the human mind is quite capable of identifying a subject even if it doesn’t match said symbol, even if the information provided is incomplete. This is where this week’s photo, Gerbera Daisies, by photographer Ryan Shaffer fits in: Ryan clearly let his right brain do what it does best and framed up these daisies in a clever, creative and awe-inspiring manner. The way the shot was framed, these daisies bring far more interest to the viewer than if it were framed so that either daisy were fully in the frame.
For the record, this shot was part of Ryan Shaffer’s 366 day photo project (we’re in a leap year, thus the extra day). And so the official title for this photo on Flickr is actually Day 138 of 366 — Gerbera Daisies. But for editorial reasons, I truncated the title to contain only what I assume is the actual title. I’d also like to take a short aside and mention Ryan’s year-long daily photo project. He is currently on day 170, and he’s doing quite well with it. Most of his shots are inspiring and I really admire the creative concepts he’s come up with even this far into the year. Having attempted a year-long project (and failing) twice before, I can say that this is quite a challenge and I admire anyone that got further week three. Seriously. So kudos to Ryan, and I hope he completes it. Even so, there’s a lot of inspiration to be had there, and so I would recommend wandering over to his Flickr account as soon as you’re done reading.
Today, of course, I would like to focus on day 138, which is the Gerbera Daisy shot above. The shot is framed so that neither of the two flowers are fully in the shot. We’ve seen cropped flower shots before, but none has been presented so eloquently as this. What makes it eloquent? The colors, for one, though this is in part due to the Gerbera Daisies themselves which have long been admired above a great number of flowers for their rich colors and silky smooth textures. But it would be unfair of me to take this away from Ryan’s credit, as it was his eye that recognized and sought out these colors in the frame. And of course we can’t deny that he picked a nice backdrop of contrasting colors to really make the warm tones pop. Beyond color, the use of depth of field is another eloquent contribution. I will admit that small depth of field tends to become cliche – as if DOF alone is enough to make a photo great – but there’s a careful balance in it that Ryan achieves quite well. The DOF is incredibly small, yielding only a couple of centimeters that is actually in focus, and only a very narrow margin that is in sharp focus. In fact, the great majority of this photo is out of focus, but at different degrees. It is clear to me that there is just enough DOF to define the edges of the flowers, but still make the background quite blurry and smooth. This forces the eye to pay close attention to the colors and the composition, and less attention to the details or even the subject matter. Ryan has tricked us into noticing the composition first and foremost, which leads me to my next point….
Ryan seems to have thrown a lot of rules out the window, and his shot is all the better for it.
The subject is not in tack sharp focus. The rule of thirds need not show its face. And the rule of odds – the belief that things often look better and more natural grouped in odd numbers – apparently was left by the wayside. If I were a technical reviewer of this photo, I would list these things among many other elements that simply aren’t right. They’re flat out wrong. But if I were a technical reviewer, I’d be using too much of my left brain and I wouldn’t be able to see the beauty in the shot. In other words, I would have missed the point. As it happens, I am not a technical reviewer, and I am a firm believer that the chaotic mind – the right brain – is fully capable of making great photos without knowing the rules. So what if nothing is in tack sharp focus – it’s enough for me to understand what I’m looking at, and I feel that there is more interest than if every part of the flower were tack sharp. There is no defined aspect of either flower that seems to snap to the rule of thirds or the golden mean or what-have you. The primary focal point of each flower is actually cut off at the edge or the corner of the photo. So be it, I think such framing shifts your attention to the petals, which are rarely the true focus of this particular subject. As for the rule of odds – there is really as much chance of an even number of a given entity (flowers, trees or otherwise) as there is for odd numbers. However, the left brain wants to believe that odd is somehow more chaotic and it makes it much easier to be “natural” if there is very little chance of creating an absolutely balanced composition. So even numbers are more challenging to create that natural look. Ryan didn’t have a problem with that, and he used two flowers. His choice of framing just so happens to make the negative space – which is often around the edges of a photo – much more relevant and much more part of the composition. I’m glad I am not a technical reviewer, because I think this photo is far more appealing than any technically perfect iteration of the same subjects could be. I think Ryan did a fantastic job.
And so I pose this question to my readers: Does the fact that this photo breaks so many rules of composition make it any less deserving of our attention? You already know my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.
Ryan Shaffer’s work can be explored on Flickr. As I already mentioned, you should check out his 365 project (366 days this year) as it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. And while the daily project seems to make up a bulk of his photostream at the moment, there are plenty of other inspiring works to be found from HDR and Infrared, to simply beautiful still shots and creative compositions using everyday objects. So be sure to check out his work for more inspiration.