Out of the frame

Photography is as much about what we include in the frame as about what we leave out of it.

I think the point applies to much more than photography.

Protection. Eifel National Park, Germany, 2018.

What we call focus is not only about the thing we focus on. Monomaniacs are very focused persons but they’re dysfunctional. What they lack is the capacity to change focus and decide what they need to leave out of their mental frame.

It’s not so much the ability to keep our attention on a subject that differentiates us. It’s the capacity to choose our focus, shift our focus and choose what to ignore. This involves self questioning, self restraint, and the ability to differentiate between what’s relevant and what’s not.

There’s a whole world out there and we are looking at it through a tiny mental viewfinder. This is our in-built limitation, but it’s also a gift.

At the end of the day, for anything we set out to do, the clarity of our focus will largely depend on what we decide to keep out of the frame.

Looking vs seeing

How often do you look at the sky?

Me, not so often when I’m living my normal city life. But when I’m out hiking and exploring, quite a lot. I look all around me.

We spend a big part of our life looking in front of us. We experience what happens to be happening in front of us. It’s like looking through a keyhole.

Even so, looking is not necessarily seeing. We look through things, we don’t pay attention, we don’t care that much. We see shapes and details but often what we’re really looking at is our problems, desires or expectations.

In some ways, taking photos helps you see more, because it forces you to focus on the essential. In order to do that, you have to identify the essential and render it visible. Neither of these comes by itself.

Identifying the essential is not easy because the essential is not out there. It has to do with the way we interpret the scene and what we want to make out of it. You may be in the most beautiful or interesting places on earth and not come up with anything more than random snapshots. The scene does not speak by itself. It needs purpose. It needs the right framing and idea to guide it.

There’s a world of difference between the scene as we see it and the photo taken. Compositions that make a lot of sense when we’re absorbed in the scene can result in flat, uninteresting or chaotic photos. The camera does not capture emotion, smell, mood, the whole experience of being there. It does not capture our field of vision. It captures photons from whatever direction you point it towards.

Turning this visual mess into something intesting has to do with things such as composition, subject and use of light. Deciding what to include in the frame and, maybe more importantly, what to leave out.