Though my own attempt at a Photo 365 Project has failed, I still follow all of the daily photo blogs that have sprung up. None has given me more joy and inspiration than David Clark’s. My own struggle with a daily photo project was that I was not satisfied with each and every one of my own works. Though David has admitted the same frustrations to me, he clearly has found a way to be inspired every day. He has found a way to create aesthetically pleasing works of art on a daily basis. It is difficult for me to practice restraint each week – when selecting each week’s inspiration from the Shutter Photo @ Flickr Group – not to select one of David’s photos. It’s not that I don’t want to share his works, but it would be difficult to prove that I didn’t have any biased towards his work. But in the middle of May, David posted this photo, Rivets, on day 132 of his project. And it struck me – any bias that I have is deeply rooted in David’s skill and his well trained eye. So it wouldn’t be fair to keep Rivets from our readers simply because I question my own bias.
In my own endeavors as a photographer, the most difficult aspect of the craft that I find most difficult to attain is simplicity. Simplicity requires finesse, a result of years of experience behind the lens. Yet even experience will not in and of itself pave a pathway to perfect simplicity. A perfectly simple photo is, in my opinion, a photo featuring a subject that is in and of itself uninteresting, but derives beauty only through composition, lighting and finesse of the photographer. As for Rivets, what isn’t simple about this photograph? If anyone were to describe this photo in words, there is nothing that would motivate me to take the time to observe it for myself. “It’s a photo of rivets around the base of a pole with some interesting lighting,” you might say about the photo. You might even go into depth about the texture shown in the photo, or the dramatic lighting. But I still wouldn’t be inclined to load up the photo. Yet to see it in person, I am inspired.
So lets dissect the photo. There are two elements to this photo that make it for me. First is the use of depth of field. Next – and it’s a close second – is the texture. In a sense, the two elements are closely related in this one. The texture is prominent outside of the depth of field, which only makes it that much more dramatic within the depth of field. So I feel that the two elements play off of each other quite well. But lets isolate each element separately, starting with the depth of field.
There are hundreds of ways to use depth of field in a photograph. Even in a photo such as this, there are at least a dozen correct ways to use depth of field. But I believe that there are far fewer aesthetically correct options for the depth of field. If you study the second rivet from the bottom, you will notice that it is entirely in focus. You will also note that it is the only rivet in focus – each rivet away from there being more and more out of focus. What does a narrow depth of field give the viewer in a photograph like this? Context, appreciation for the texture and appreciation for the lighting. Context is typically thought of as a place. If we had a photo of a flower in front of a church, even if the church itself was blurred, it would be enough to offer context. But in this case, when dealing with something so relatively small, context seems to be misunderstood. Bokeh – the areas outside of the depth of field – doesn’t introduce us to new wisdom. But it does give somewhat of a sense of scale. Admittedly, there is little in this photograph that tells us the size of these rivets, or the post it is holding in place. But since we are dealing with such a short distance, the depth of field – or more importantly, the relative blurriness across a distance – helps us to understand the relative distances. When it comes to appreciating texture, depth of field reveals a great deal about the texture. A subtle texture does not carry well outside the limited depth of field, whereas a course texture would. In this photo, we can clearly see that this is a course texture (all in context, of course). As for the lighting, we can learn a great deal about the lighting based on the depth of field alone. The hardness of the light and the directionality of the light is better understood through depth of field. Clearly, we can see that the light source is focused and singular in this photo as even the out-of-focus rivets cast strong shadows. But if we had multiple light sources, we would be able to tell a little more about how far the light source is from the subject based on the bokeh reaction alone.
Texture is another essential element to this photo. As I already mentioned, it is only further appreciated through the use of depth of field in this photograph. But lets look at the texture specifically. With dramatic lighting, such as we have here, texture is going to be the first indicator of poor focus. If you plan to shoot a texture rich subject with a narrow depth of field and dramatic lighting, you better make sure your focusing skills are up to par. This is, of course, why Rivets is all the more appealing, aesthetically. Whether you understand the skill behind this or not, the way the texture plays through this photo is stunning. But here’s the part that makes this shot for me: In black and white, the rivets and the steel around it is incredibly appealing – yet, I expect the actual subject is rust-laden and ugly, in person. Only rust – or painted rust – would have this sort of course texture on rivets. But David’s play off of our senses – switching from color to black-and-white for this photo – is, to me, the embodiment of a photographer’s mind and their eye. Never mind technical knowledge, it takes years of experience of looking at small details in the world to realize that rust can be beautiful, and it takes the photographer’s mind to put it in black-and-white to show that to the casual observer.
It all comes down to perfect simplicity. It should be the goal for which we all, as photographers, strive to accomplish. David’s photograph, Rivets, is without a doubt simple. But it is also perfectly simple. And for that reason, it should serve as inspiration to us all.