May 1, 2019

Simplify to Emphasize the Focal Point


Simple Black and White Photography - Dark Sheep

Dark Sheep

Even though I’ve been photographing in Black and White since 1968, I consider the years from 2004 to present to be my important ones. It was during these years that I found my Vision and pursued my Passion.


Poudre River Spillway
During the last 15 years my work has changed in many ways and I’d like to illustrate one of them: my work has become more simple.
Railroad Tracks
I’ve always loved simple images but it wasn’t until the last few years that I consistently started to create them.
Swimming Towards the Light
It wasn’t really a conscious decision to simplify my images, it just “sorta” happened as a by-product of another decision.
Several years ago I decided to simplify my equipment and processes. 
String of Pearls
I was spending too much time tinkering, adjusting and fixing things and I wanted to instead focus on what was important. I think that this philosophy of simplicity spilled over into my images. 


Lone Man No. 35
So what do I mean by a simple image?
Gull and Moon
For me, it’s an image with fewer visual elements and less detail.
Lone Man No. 7
Like in the “Lone Man” image above, there are only three elements and very little detail. 
Four Silos
The fewer the elements and the less detail, the simpler the image is.
Dew on Feather
Even though this image has a lot of detail, I have darkened the sand detail so that it doesn’t compete with the feather, but rather makes it the focal point.
Beneath the Clouds
Simple images are, well, simple.
Monolith No. 27
And I generally don’t find them this way, I create them this way.
Minneapolis Power Lines
Sometimes “simple” comes from the composition: what you include in the frame, but more often what you don’t include.
Five Sticks
Sometimes what you don’t include is just as important as what you do include.
Iceland No. 12
I always ask myself two questions: what do I want the eye to focus on? What’s my focal point?
Fluid Water No. 45
And: what’s not needed?
Deep Snow
Another element of “simple” is to eliminate detail.
Separation No. 2
Yesterday I was looking at an HDR black and white image and it suddenly occurred to me why I don’t care for them. The wide dynamic range includes too much detail, I find it distracting because it obscures the focal point.
That certainly would have been the case with this image if I would have preserved all the shadow detail in the rock, it would have overwhelmed the image.
Melting Giants No. 22
One of my oft used tools to remove detail is the long exposure. I use it to smooth out detail in water and sky.
Isolated No. 15
This image, without the long exposure would not be nearly as clean or effective.
Faroe Islands No. 6
Another technique I love to use is burning down detail. While many photographers work to preserve shadow detail, I purposely eliminate most or all of it. When I do leave some shadow detail, it’s very subdued. 
Monolith No. 62
Many of my images are very dark because I burn out all of the detail. This helps to simplify them.
They Walk Among Us
And sometimes I’ll do the opposite and dodge up the image to eliminate or reduce detail except where I’d like your attention to go, the focal point.
Lone Man, Zabriskie Point
This image has a lot of detail, but it’s been pulled way back into the background by lightening it, leaving the lone man as the focus.
Dunes of Nude No. 73
And sometimes I both dodge and burn, bringing up the subject and burning down the surrounding area.
Isolated No. 20
That’s what I did with this image, I darkened much of it to reduce the amount of detail and brightened the areas I wanted to focus the eye on.
Run Aground
However I do it, simplifying the image always seems to make it better. It pushes the eye to the Focal Point.
Dunes of Nude No. 86
It is true that sometimes, less can be more.
St Louis Arch
I love Black and White and I like it simple. Simple is often better.

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