Room to Breathe – by JJ Michael

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The famous war photographer, Robert Capa, once said, “if your photographs aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”  While this simple statement holds true for many subjects and images, sometimes the exact opposite approach is needed.

If your subject is moving then instead of a nice, tight crop, you are better off backing up a bit and giving your subject space to move into.  When viewing an image of a moving object people will have a tendency to look at where that object is going next.  A subject that is right up against the edge of the image and moving out of the frame can produce an uncomfortable feeling for the viewer.  The space a subject is moving into is often called “active space” and gives the viewer a visual path through the image.  Allowing the viewer to see where the subject is moving to helps put the viewer at ease and feels a bit more natural.

seattle ferry


This idea can also be applied to photographing people.  Tight crops in portraiture sometimes work well and produce great results, but at other times they can result in a claustrophobic feeling.  Just as a viewer’s path through an image will follow a moving subject, a viewer’s gaze will typically follow where your subject is looking.  Giving people in your images room to breathe will create images that can be a bit more pleasing for your viewers.

burmese woman


As with all of the ‘rules’ of photography, it’s important you learn the rules, and then decided when they should be broken.

long tail boats