Pieces of The Whole


The whole is the sum of its parts. If a single addend is eliminated, it prevents a proper total from being obtained. Photographically put, make sure all components in the composition add up to a proper sum. Don’t create an ‘awkward’ crop of your subject. For example, you wouldn’t take a picture of the Empire State Building and include just half of the antenna or take a shot of a majestic bull elk and cut into his antlers. These are obvious mistakes. But often, a very tight cropping of a subject or photographing a strategic piece can net a better image than if presented in its entirety.

I refer to this concept of photography as “pieces of the whole.” Compositionally, the same rules apply as if you are photographing an entire subject. It’s just that you concentrate on a small section of it. Use the rule of thirds to prevent placing the focal point in the center of the image. It makes a more dynamic photo. Look for color variations to play one against another or blend tones harmoniously. If important tones merge with the edges of your frame, look for ways to change their locations so the eye isn’t pulled away from the center of interest.

Depending on the size of your subject, you may need a macro lens, close up filter, or extension tube to get in tight on the section you want to isolate. For instance, a common subject of nature photographers is a butterfly. While capturing a great specimen perched on a flower makes a wonderful image, shooting pieces of the whole may net you two additional ones – a close up pattern of the wings and an in tight shot of the flower upon which it sits. A favorite subject of travel photographers is the market area. Close up images of the goods being sold in addition to shots of weathered hands should not be overlooked.

In the images that accompany this Tip of the Week, I made conscious choices to zero in on small portions of the subject matter before me. I go to the Tetons twice a year and each time I bring my participants to the Mormon Barn. It’s an iconic shot that’s been made again and again. I wanted to add a new twist to it so I brought my group back at sunset and we concentrated on just the details. We still made the iconic image but then turned our lenses away from the obvious. It proved to be very educational. The close up of the rose is a tight cropping of just the interesting area of the emerging petals.

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