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.
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.
As with all of the ‘rules’ of photography, it’s important you learn the rules, and then decided when they should be broken.
Many photographers who are just beginning will look at a professional’s work and think that professional photographers are merely lucky people who happen to always find themselves in the right place at the right time to capture the images they do. If that is the case then Eric Meola is one of the luckiest men alive.
Eric’s portfolio is full of wonderful images which use simple compositions and a brilliant use of color to beautifully portray diverse cultures and vast landscapes. It is very possible that Eric simply stumbles across fascinating people and beautiful scenery every time he turns a corner, but the more likely explanation for such an amazing collection of images is that through years of relentless effort he has developed a keen sense of awareness of his surroundings.
It’s this sense of awareness that allows photographers like Eric to regularly put themselves in the right position to create stunning images. The time spent exploring and observing is just as important as knowing about exposure compensation and metering modes. Technical skills and composition techniques can be learned, but the observational skills required for finding that perfect picture only come from continually walking out your front door with camera in hand.
In addition to regularly working at your craft, one of the best ways to improve your own photography or break yourself out of a photographic rut is to find inspiration in other photographers’ work. A great place to start is with Eric’s portfolio which spans several decades and comes from all over the globe. His images can be found at ericmeola.com.