I was initially drawn to David Clark’s photo, Summer Chair, because of it’s absolute simplicity. Simplicity for an aspiring artist is so difficult, and my goal was to use this shot as an example of how to do simplicity right. A deeper look will reveal that I got far more than I bargained for.
First, lets talk about the simplicity. This is a symmetrical composition with essentially only two major colors, both primary colors: Yellow and Blue.
Hold for a minute – two colors? Gradients are different shades of the same color. The only difference between each shade is the amount of light reflected. This shot is a great example of that. This is a painted Adirondack chair – you know it’s all the same color. All that has changed is the light. See, I told you that this was a great shot to make an example of.
So this shot isn’t as simple as it really appears first hand. The power is in the lighting. To explain the shot in David’s own words: The lighting is all natural — the sun was above and slightly in front of [him], and caused the yellow paint to reflect on the rest of the chair. Light: it’s what we really focus on as photographers. As I mentioned above, the gradient here is merely caused by the reflection of the sun off of the surface. The surface that’s actually reflecting the light can’t be seen – it’s the top surface of that top bar. Seeing a shot like this really makes me appreciate the power of reflected light.
The last lesson I want to touch on is the compositional lesson that is most often overlooked: Fill the Frame. Many beginning photographers worry about photographing the entire subject. As this shot clearly demonstrates, you don’t need to do that. It really doesn’t really matter what David is shooting here. This could just as easily be a fence post or the underside of a sled. But the chair is not really the subject, despite the shots title. The subject here is really the light and the effect and ambiance that it creates.
As a bonus lesson, I want to talk philosophically for a moment. A shot like this can teach an observing photographer so much. But it affects each and every one of us differently. I’m drawn into this shot because of the light and the simplicity of the composition. That might be why someone else might not like it. And to be fair, it may not be what the photographer himself intended. But does that all really matter?
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