Don't Show Everything at Once

The pictures from your phone suck. You may know this, and you probably don’t want to admit it. You bought the phone because of it’s awesome camera, super low-light, and cool “portrait mode” features that turn “the world into your studio.” But there’s one thing your phone can’t do for you: frame the shot.

The issue? You’re trying to show everything at once.

Now, what the f#@% do I mean by that? What you’re doing is showing exactly what you see. For example, here’s a church I saw while driving in México. I loved the rich yellow paint and how it contrasted with the beautiful blue sky. Grass on one side, earth on the other. The perfect symmetry of it’s architecture is incredibly pleasing to the human eye. If I shot this on my phone, you would probably see this:

 This composition sucks.

This composition sucks.

But you lose all of that beauty when your frame is wide. You see the reality around this moment. There’s an arena to the right of the church and a residential street to the left. Yes, these are normal things to see, but they distract you from the subject: the beauty of the church against the sky.

Ok, so full disclosure here, I shot this on my 5dii. It’s a panorama of 3x images I shot on a 50mm lens. But it represents what I see in most images shot on a phone. There is a subject, but the photographer fails to isolate the subject in the frame.

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Instead, march in (if you’re on a prime lens) or zoom in (if you’re on a zoom lens) and remove these distractions so the viewer can see what you’re seeing. With this framing, the world around the church doesn’t exist. You see exactly what made me stop to take this image - the raw beauty of this church.

Want to take this idea a step further? Try using your framing artistically to evoke a feeling!

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This is the Mayan ruins in Uxmal, México. When you’re walking around, these structures pop up through the forest and loom over you. In this frame, I used my close proximity to one of the pyramids as my foreground/leading lines, people in the middle ground for scale, and included a larger pyramid poking through the trees to give you a sense of scale. It’s an accurate representation - but there’s no sense of emotion attached to the image. You’re seeing exactly what you would see.

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But when I choose to focus on the tourists on top of the pyramid that I used as foreground, you see only the stones and sky. They’re standing on top of the world! The emotional experience of standing on top of these ancient structures is much clearer. The frame is cleaner and colour contrast helps us distinguish our subjects.

So, next time you wonder why your phone picture leaves you wanting more, consider showing less. Photography is a curated experience of the world. Show your viewers exactly what you’re seeing. It’s your vision after all.

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Shot on Canon 5dii + 50mm f1.4 in Yucatan, México