Managing the viewer’s eye

Out in the natural world sometimes the best angle for a subject means you have extraneous material in your photograph.  Sure, you can wait for the light to change or try and put something up to block those unneeded elements, but when you’re outside and everything for your subject looks right, you’ve got to make the image THEN!

So, what to do?  You can digitally process the material out by cropping, blurring, replacing it with something else, etc. but that might affect the overall composition and can be hard to do effectively.  The worse material for me are those bright areas behind your subject, spots of highlighted area that distract from where you want the view to spend time looking.  Lowering their brightness usually doesn’t work for me and trying to get rid of them usually makes that area look fake.  This is an example of where you can work to turn a negative into a positive.

ISO 100, 100mm, 1/640 sec., f/3.5

I really liked the way the sunlight was falling across these blooms, highlighting the right side and creating shadow on the left side.  But every angle I used where the light and blooms were in the right place left that big bright spot in the background (it’s another cluster of the same blooms).  I knew even blurring it would not help and couldn’t envision any digital tools that would get rid of it and look natural.  After a bit I realized it actually balanced the image diagonally somewhat.  But it was so distracting!

Then I noticed the little squiggly creeper dangling down from a higher branch.  I changed my perspective a bit and was able to put it right in the background bright spot with enough depth of field to keep it in focus against the blurred highlight.  What was a distraction, the bright blurred spot, suddenly became a frame for this other element in a way that lessened the tendency for the viewer’s eye to leave the subject and wander off.

Should you carry around samples of twigs and branches to put in your pictures?  No.  Most of us have camera bags that are too full as it is.  You should, however, pay attention to what’s beyond the frame of your viewfinder and see if there are other interesting elements you can use to diminish what could be a distraction.  And not be afraid to put them in.


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