A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it.

It is, in a word, effective.

— Irving Penn

For some, “space” might conjure up thoughts of “the final frontier.” For photographers and other visual artists, it’s more about how the frame or canvas is or is not filled. In this blog, I will share thoughts, ideas and questions to consider in how we fill and arrange elements in the image frame.

My first Milky Way image … celebrating Space!

CLEAR THE CLUTTER

To be clear, we’re not talking about my office. The focus is the “room” of our images. There’s an ancient Chinese art – Feng Shui – that is often used in interior design. It involves the arranging of buildings, objects and space to achieve harmony and balance. Often, you hear of this in reference to working the space within a room with the goal of creating balance and improving energy and flow. It’s way more in depth than this, but the concept can be applied in our image making and can positively influence how we compose and refine the elements within the frame. One of the top points in feng shui is to clear away the clutter. If we do this, we are much further along in creating a stronger image. The phrase, “simplify, simplify, simplify” echoes in my brain. It’s something we all need to consider.

A lot of stuff in this image all about color and creativity.

Simplifying the scene with balance and color.

START WITH “THE BOX”

The box is the frame. This box can and does vary in size and shape. From the start (meaning the camera), we have a few basic shapes: Rectangle and Square. These options can be expanded to include a variety, including panorama (long rectangle), a variety of aspect ratios (2×3, 3×4, 4×5, 16×9, etc.) and “free form.” The cameras we generally use give us the 2×3 rectangular aspect ratio (unless we select another option). So, that’s the box we look to fill.

I started with the rectangle, but have since found value in the square and the 16×9 rectangle. And, while these crop options are available in post, I’m fortunate to be able to select each one with my Nikon Z6ii. I do so on a regular basis to challenge myself to see differently through the viewfinder. This also helps me to visualize images in different ways, even when I’m using the standard 2×3 view in camera. The square affords the opportunity to leave out elements that don’t add to the image (as does a vertical orientation). The 16×9 format allows me to remove (leave out) dead areas in the frame, such as a blank sky in a landscape or visual distractions that I would crop out in post anyway.

The shapes we choose to use in the shooting phase, while we are on location, help us create compositions for the space we have to fill. If you have an awareness and option to choose your image area in camera, do it. Your “I’ll crop it later” phrase may be uttered far less frequently. And, that’s a good thing. Getting things “right” in the field always saves you time and regrets in front of the computer screen.

The rectangle works well to include all that matters on this wall.

The square contains all that matters in this still life.

This “pano” crop removes what doesn’t matter and clarifies what does.

YOUR SUBJECT AND SUPPORTING ELEMENTS

The first question you need to answer is, “What’s My Subject?” Then, you need to figure out what your approach will be or what your goal is. Do you want a wide view, a more intimate setting, or do you want to fill the frame with your subject? What you want and what you can achieve depends on your subject. Is it stationary (i.e., landscapes, still life, etc.)? Or is it likely to move (birds, wildlife, sports, events)? It also depends on what lens and other gear you have with you. If what you need is in the car, at home or in a hotel, you work with what you have and shift gears.

I tend to photograph more in the stationary realm – landscapes, florals, macro, still life and such. So, when I encounter birds (moving targets), the lens I have with me is generally not long enough. Hence, even when cropping in post, my birds are relegated to the “dot birds” category and are often not worthy of keeping or sharing. If I have my longer lens with me, the results are better. That said, I still have the experience of being there and seeing some incredible things in nature.

The subject is fall color, with the reflections coming in as strong supporting character. The texture added is a more subtle supporting character that enhances the mood of the image.

The contrast between the white egret and dark remnants the bridge and pano crop highlight the egret as the main subject, even though it is the smallest element in the frame.

PLACEMENT, ORIENTATION AND DIRECTION

The next question for me is, “Where do I put my subject?” The answer depends again, in part, on my goal. It also depends on whether that goal is possible. Remember, your subject is the STAR of the image. Everything else is either a supporting character or a detractor. You want to compose out all or most of the “bad guys” who are not helping your image. Choosing an orientation (vertical or horizontal) can make a big difference in how the image is read, for many that means left to right. Where you place your main subject in the frame and the space you provide around it has impact.

Some of you may know this already (I did, too), but I didn’t know there was a name for it. The “rule of space”