The streets are filled with a myriad of different ways of capturing a great shot. But the tendency, just like in everything else, is to always look for the same default composition. We have in our heads that everything should be sharp, well exposed, limbs should never be cut off etc.
Maybe we read it a long time ago in that book that we bought along with our first camera or maybe someone said it at that introduction to photography workshop we took several years ago. It got into our head and now it’s ruling how we take all our pictures. It is quietly preventing us from getting better pictures.
“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision”. – Salvador Dali
I do believe that the rules of composition can make the image stronger so we need to know about them. But the most important reason to learn the rules of composition is so that we can deliberately break them.
And if you are going to break the rules, break them gloriously and go crazy and surreal by adding shadows and blur.
In his 1958 book “The Americans” photographer Robert Frank started to experiment with things like shadows and blur effectively deviating from the “normal” rules of photography. By using unusual focus, low lighting and cropping off subjects he created images that Popular Photography referred to as “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness.” It took a while for the public to understand that he was more interested in conveying a message than creating something just aesthetically pleasing. To this day Frank remains one of the most influential photojournalist and documentary street photographers of the 20th century.
“The photographs that excite me are photographs that say something in a new manner; not for the sake of being different, but ones that are different because the individual is different and the individual expresses himself”. – Harry Callahan
Shadows and blur indelibly mark a picture as different. And different is interesting. Different is visually impacting. Different is long-lasting. Shadows and blur are always on the streets waiting to be captured by changing our angle of view or by setting a slower shutter speed. It takes practice but it’s a lot of fun.
It’s all about experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t work, because as I’m finding out not everything works. But is worth trying.
Give the viewer something to think about. Give the viewer shadows and blur ( and cut off some feet while you’re at it).