Abstract Subjects in Photography
When learning photography you will invariably get told to make your subject stand out. No doubt, you will be told a number of ways to accomplish this including, focus, depth of field, composition, leading lines and countless others. While I agree all these techniques can lead to a well composed subject within a photograph, I believe that they also limit creativity because they focus too much on the actual elements in the image and not enough on the story told or the emotion conveyed by the image.
To illustrate, how these rules can actually limit the maker’s creativity, I am going to use one of my images I captured on a recent walk around San Francisco. By classic photography definitions, one could say that it either lacks a subject or its subject is ambiguous because of the composition. I can hear the judge at some photography competition now, ” What is the subject? Pick one and better isolate it so the viewer’s eyes are drawn…” They are so focused on basic rules that they completely miss the meaning of the image.
Old vs. New
This image was captured under the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. As I was looking at the scene, I was struck by the contrast of old construction of the bridge support compared to the new construction of the building. Being the maker of this image I wanted the subject to be the tension between old verses new. Even more I wanted the viewer to see it the image as a lens from a imposing history giving way to a new future. Perhaps as a way of saying that societies future is largely shaped by the by it history. Clearly my subject was not the bridge, the building, the space between them or any tangible element that I could capture in any image. So arranging the objects in the image around a set of rules would not suite my purpose.
Just to be clear, I am not against the various composition rules nor do I suggest that someone break them without thought. What I do believe is that the rules are too often presented as absolutes to beginner and intermediate photographers and it becomes difficult for them to feel comfortable making an image that does not follow the basic rule. In then end, this limits what is possible in their images far too much. As artists we need to feel open to composing our images to create feelings and and convey concepts even when that requires ignoring the rules.