Saturday Insight: Seeing in Pieces

Being a photographer is all about seeing — and translating what you see into a story using only images. Sometimes, the story is best told in the broad picture — the sweeping landscape, a family posed around the hearth, a road that vanishes into the horizon. Sometimes, however, the story is in the details — the wisp of a horse’s mane, the soft tail of a cat, the isolated curve of woman’s hip. All of these things focus us in on one small portion of the story, but in the process give us an insight we, as viewers, may have missed in a broader image.

The majority of my work is done with animals, especially horses and horses lend themselves very well to detail work. The feeling evoked by the big, liquid eye of a horse is moving and inspiring even to those who don’t own or work with horses. A wagging dog tale, a cat’s whiskers and the wing of bird are equally moving because they bring to the surface in the viewer both personal emotions associated with specific memories as well as globally shared ideals like happiness in the case of the dog or freedom in the case of the bird. By focusing the viewer in on such elements, the photographer becomes a true storyteller, letting the viewer in on her secret way of seeing — and that is both powerful and profound.

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When composing a detail photo, there really are no specific rules except to reduce the broad image down to a single detail (such as an eye) or set of related details (such as a horse’s  nose nibbling at a lariat). The rule of thirds applies, of course — but sometimes breaking this rule in a detail photo can set the viewer on his ear and make him take notice of something he might have otherwise overlooked. The best advice I can give you is to go out and shoot and discover what works because detail photography is all about discovery, and many times what you discover may surprise even you.

This weeks challenge is (quite obviously) to go out and shoot some detail photos. But I also want you to start looking around your world even when you don’t have a camera with you and really seeing the detail. Look on your desk, for example, if you were to take a photo here that would tell the story of your day, what would it look like — what item or items would convey the most meaning to another human being if they came with no words attached? Wherever you go, take a few minutes (even if you don’t have your camera) and see the details of the world around you. Ask yourself which details evoke emotion, conjure up memories, or relate to a specific sense (like touch, or smell) — chances are if the detail draws you in, it will also draw in your viewer. Most importantly, when you go out to shoot detail, do not let time be a factor. Don’t take a watch, or phone or other time-telling device. Go with only yourself and when you find a subject, don’t interact — just shoot. Push yourself with this assignment, stay focused and shooting past when it’s comfortable or past when you think you’ve seen every angle you can see. Sometimes, familiarity and boredom will give way to an entirely new way of seeing something (or someone).

Click happy! Kim

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