One of the characteristics of a strong composition is that it tells your audience your intention in making a photograph. If someone has to ask you what it is you are trying to show them, that’s one question too many.
One way to give your photos this kind of clarity is to make them simpler. And one way to simplify any picture is to get in closer to your subject.
But how close is close enough?
That’s where general guidelines turn into judgment calls, and your instincts and experience as a photographer kick in.
A Walk Through the Gardens
Recently, I was visiting the Caramoor Museum and Gardens in Katonah, New York, and I saw an interesting-looking urn that I wanted to shoot.
I decided to include the beautiful, ornate gold-and-black gate in the background of the picture. So I composed a shot (using my tripod, naturally) to include the entire urn and most of the gate.
Nice shot, I thought.
It looked good on the LCD, and I still like it. But then I thought that putting those geraniums in the foreground might be creating too much of a distraction and diminishing the impact of the gate.
So I zoomed in a touch to get rid of the flowers.
I liked this shot, too.
In fact, I’m using it in the revision of my book, “The Joy of Digital Photography.” With the reds and greens gone from the foreground, the shot will almost certainly reproduce better for the printer.
Finally, I took a third shot, moving in even closer.
I always advise photographers, “When you think you are close, you can still take a giant step closer — and usually come up with a good shot.”
I call it the Giant Step Theory. (Actually, I just thought of that name for it — but you get the point.)
In the third shot, while the gate is completely gone and there is no real foreground, it’s still a good photograph, and in some ways I like it best. One small step for you, one giant step for your photography.
Good, Better, Best?
So, is any one of these shots superior to the others?
It really depends on how you’re using it, and what you like — or what you like at the moment. If your preferences are like mine, they’re always changing.
But since digital is free and you only have to move a few feet to give yourself more options, go ahead, shoot the wide shot and then take a step or two forward.
As long as you’re not shooting from the end of a dock, of course.