I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a photographic term that I’ve grown to call “presence”. Some images seem to immerse the viewer of the photograph right into the scene as if they were an active participant or perhaps a bystander who is witnessing the event first hand. Yet others seem to convey more of a sense of distance – that of an onlooker who is trying to see but can’t quite figure out just what’s going on.
There is room for both scenarios in good photography, and often, presence can have a direct correlation to how compelling a photograph can be.
If you are trying to convey a sense of vastness, or loneliness, or to portray a scene that has room – perhaps a stark, barren place of desolation, then it seems logical to give the photograph some space. If you are trying to thrust the viewer into a situation that they cannot possibly back away from, then getting close is the answer.
There are a few things to be careful of however. Make sure that you are not so close that the viewer of the image has no context. On the other hand, make sure that you’re not so far away or you’re rendering the image in such a way that the focal point of the photograph is almost indistinguishable unless you’re looking at a rather large print hanging on a wall somewhere. If your target purpose for the image is Instagram for example, make sure that the things that need to be seen can be seen.
I’ve seen many images over the years where otherwise great photographs could have been made much more compelling if the photographer had only stepped fifteen feet forward before pressing the shutter release. And there have been many quite good photographs that were just too close leaving the viewer without enough context to properly get a feel for what’s going on.
So next time you’re taking photographs, try thinking about the term “presence” and pay attention to how compelling your image can be by simply adjusting your distance or your render.