Simplicity and repetition is often all you need. This untitled photo from Headerjr (I do not know his real name) is an example of that. I do not know what we’re looking at here, I can only assume these are switches on some ancient piece of equipment, but that does not matter. What do I see when I look at this photo? I see shapes and repetition. I am drawn to this image because of its depth. I am drawn to this image because of the shades of gray that I see. Perhaps I’m even drawn to it because I don’t really know what it is.
In my opinion, simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve in photography. We like to over-think things, and it’s difficult to see simplicity in the real world. You need to be able to recognize simple compositions and visualize them on the 2D photo before you snap the shutter. We’re just not wired that way, and you’d need to train yourself for it. But you also need to train yourself to make such simple compositions interesting. If, for example, this shot were composed straight-on from the face of this switch board, you would have repetition, but it would not be very interesting. What makes this shot interesting is the use of depth – the apparent diminishing size of the otherwise identical switches – to draw you in. Relax and view this shot, and you cannot help that your eye is drawn to the vanishing point. That is what’s interesting. I would commend Headerjr for recognizing the potential in this panel and capturing it in such a simple but interesting manner.
Now I will be honest and perhaps a little blunt (sorry Headerjr): There are a few things about this photo I do not like. I will share them with you, but bear in mind as you read my words that my thoughts are to be taken with a grain of salt. Overall, I love the shot, but I always look for ways that a photo can be improved (even my own). If this were my photo, this is how I would improve it:
- Increase the Dynamic Range – this is a black and white photo. It should have some white. I suspect that the switches (or whatever they are) are actually red or yellow. Such shades come up gray in black and white. That doesn’t mean you have to portray them brighter. I would tweak the dynamic range to introduce white – bright white. If the switches are portrayed brighter than they are in real life, so be it. It’s your photo, you can do what you want.
- Title – Photos, and all works of art, deserve a title. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Titles are difficult, and they can make or break an image. But even a broken title is better than no title at all. A title is the only chance you have in photography to influence a viewer’s perspective of your photo. If you’ve tried and you can’t title your photo, at least number them so that another person can refer to it with some identifier. Which is easier to understand? “I really like that photo of yours with the thingies disappearing into the distance…” or “I really liked your photo #42”. I think you get the point.
- More negative space to the left – There’s not much negative space to the left. I’d like to see the switch that is in focus pushed more to the right and the vanishing point more in the center. I feel that it would make for a more interesting composition.
- Heavy-bottom framing – A simple compositional rule about framing – if all sides are not equal, the bottom should have the most weight (most space). If you like the bottom-weighted look, shift the photo higher in the frame and make sure the right, left and top sides are equal but the bottom is larger
Let this shot be an inspiration this weekend as you wander about the real world. Keep an eye out for simplicity and see if you can make it interesting. Compose with repetition and work in black and white to keep things simple (but interesting). Please show off your results to the Shutter Photo @ Flickr Pool and check back to see what others have achieved as well.