Take for example a picture of a car. If it was shot in a studio, the background could
be entirely blank. That would make the car very important in the shot. If you shot
that same car in the middle of a parking lot while it was full of other cars, your car
becomes almost insignificant. (Unless there was something unique about it, like it
was red and all the other cars were blue.) Now take it one step further, imagine your
car on the racetrack with two or three other cars, but it was clearly in the lead. The
car is again important, but not all by it’s self. Now it becomes a key element in a
much bigger shot . . . the race.
I define dominant space as the environment that most compliments your subject.
Taking a picture of a young lady in a string bikini sitting on your couch just doesn’t
have the same impact as her coming out of the crashing waves with the sun reflecting
off her golden hair and water glistening off her big beautiful . . . well, you get the idea.
Dominant space means that there is no such thing as “just a background”. While the
image you take may or may not fill the entire viewfinder, whatever is not the subject
must support the subject.
Too often people will snap a shot of a cute baby, or cute puppy, or a cute anything
and totally ignore what is around the subject. Yes, baby may be cute, but do you really
want that dirty diaper sitting in the corner to be noticeable. Now obviously, you are not
going to set up every single shot you ever take, however there are three simple things
you can do that will greatly enhance your every day shots.
The first thing is actually the easiest. As Robert Capa once said “If your pictures aren’t
good enough, you’re not close enough.” Move in closer to your subject. You can either
do this physically, or with a zoom lens fill the frame even tighter. A good rule of thumb
is: Whatever doesn’t add to the shot distracts. Eliminate ALL distractions.
The second creative option is use a very narrow depth of field. What this means is that
you set your camera so it only has a limited amount of every shot in focus, usually from
say 6 to 12 inches. Some people have the mistaken idea that this is limiting what type of
shots you can take. Oh contra ire, my friend. Now when you take a picture of the baby,
the baby is all you notice, because everything else has gone to a blurry soft focus. Even
if baby is really cute right beside the garbage can he or she just knocked over, you can
still get a really nice shot.
The third option that is simpler than staging every single shot is to change your perspective.
By your perspective, I mean you the photographer, not the subject. In most cases you have
at least 360 degrees to choose from. While baby might look cute right beside the garbage can,
that’s only if you shoot him from the right. What happens when you take one step to the left?
Now maybe you only see cabinets behind the young tike. Hey it may not be as cool as bright
grassy field, but it still looks a LOT nicer than a pile of garbage in the background.
Being aware of the dominant space means that when you look into that viewfinder; you look
at every detail from edge to edge. Never take a picture of just a car or just a baby, take the
time to put it all together. Watch out for the things that distract sure (obviously you don’t want
a telephone line coming out someone’s ear); but more importantly look for the things actually
support the shot. By looking at the whole picture, visualizing the entire canvas you go from
snapshots to photographs to works of art. The choice is yours.