Life imitates art – hopefully

I’m trying to work on  my ability to see the basics of design elements so I can incorporate them into my photography, making images more interesting and fun to look at.  Just as painters do pencil or ink studies of parts that will eventually be incorporated into a larger work, I’m setting up deliberate designs and photographing them to explore how they look in my camera, how light works on them, how little changes have a large impact, etc.

The incorporation of leading lines and repeating elements in a photograph help guide the viewer through the scene, taking their eyes where the photographer wants, to places in the scene that are important to appreciating the overall image.  We’ll all seen this used well, with roads, telephone poles, fence lines, railroad tracks, etc.  I feel when it’s used really well the design element almost becomes invisible to the viewer, so obvious a part of the picture the viewer would be surprised when asked if they noticed it.  For the grand landscape I believe this is very important – the viewer should be enthralled by the overall scene, not the line of bushes taking their eyes to the background mountains.

At a recent workshop I attended this was the source of good discussions during the group critiques.  Sometimes it’s easy to put something like leading lines or repeating elements into your image because all the books say it’s a good idea, but doing so without reason can be worse than ignoring the opportunity altogether.  Our instructors were quick to point out where these elements appeared to be “kludged” into an image just for effect; unfortunately most of the classes images fell into this category so the learning was repetitive and reinforced.

One really good point that I haven’t seen in many photography technique books was offered by Jay Maisel, one of the instructors.  He said repeating patterns can be very effective when leading to something interesting but when used as the main subject they get boring.  His recommendation for photographers wanting to take this approach is to break up the pattern at least once in the overall design.  Give the viewer’s eye something to stop on, linger on, think about, before moving on down the line.



Your basic repeating pattern and leading line

Here a place to pause while viewing but more of a speed bump than stop

More stop than speed bump ("why is that piece on its side?")

Now you've got to stop ("what is that? oh, half a domino")

Certainly it’s easy to construct such images on a tabletop with regular pieces of something, but how to apply out in the real world?  That’s what I’m practicing.  Maybe it’s a line of trees next to a prairie all in fall colors except for a single pine.  Perhaps rows of corn with a windmill in the middle of the field.  I don’t know but I want to be better at recognizing the opportunity when I see it and building these little models and photographing them helps me see them in the viewfinder.

More practice like this and then I’ll go out to look intentionally for specific elements I can build an image around.  My hope is it all becomes automatic in the future, a reflex action that stops me in front of a scene because all the elements work to portray a story or emphasize a feature.  That’s how I differentiate the master outdoor photographers from all us yet-to-be masters.  And how I want to stand out to viewers.