Tyler’s Tips Episode 34: Leave Things Out


Welcome to Tyler’s Tips. Today, I’m going to talk about why it’s so important to leave things out.

So what do I mean when I say leave things out? So when we’re making a composition or we’re lighting a subject, one of the most powerful tools that we have is actually to not tell the whole story. It’s a little counterintuitive, but the most dynamic and engaging photos are the ones that force our brains at least in some small way to make a little jump to come to a conclusion. Like, if we just hand the whole story to somebody, the viewer, and they don’t have to figure it out, they don’t have to work for it at least a little bit, then the image is probably not going to be all that dynamic. Sometimes it can work, but almost always it’s better if you can create an image that encourages the viewer to make a little jump.

Or even if it’s subconscious, just make their brain fill in some details that help tell the story. So to dig into this a little bit, I want to use some examples.

One of the most powerful is cropping. So if we take a composition like this one, of the bus up on the jacks and the guy working on it. By cropping the far side of that image so that you don’t see all the bus, it forces our brains to fill in that gap. I also composed it so that I did not include the lead edge of the garage door on this side. I could have easily pulled back a little further and created a composition that would show you the whole garage door, the front edge of it, and contained all those windows and also the back end of that bus. But by leaving it this way, it forces our brains to just fill in those details.

We know they’re there. It’s not rocket science. It’s not a huge jump. Nobody even thinks about it when they look at this image, but it increases the dynamic energy of the image and by dynamic energy, I mean our eyes keep moving it around it. Our eyes keep following these lines. And by creating opportunities for our brains to fill in details, it just keeps that going a little bit more, so it makes for a more engaging image, which is what we’re trying to accomplish, right? Get people to look at our images and to enjoy looking at them and to engage.

So another example, very different, is this collection of spoons. So in this case I started out this without any spoons breaking the lines, anywhere on this photo. Actually, I started without the black and white line either, around the edge. I started with all these spoons laying on a piece of marble and everything contained in the photo and it just was kind of flat and it was cool, but it needed more.

And so, I moved the camera position and I let some of the spoons break the edge of the frame, which helped, like with the previous example of the bus. But then I realized what I wanted to do is really turn up the volume on that. So, I put the spoons on white and then I put black behind the white, so that there’s actually two frames, right? There’s the line of the white and the black, and then there’s also the actual frame of the photo. And then I had some of the handles break both of those lines, which is even more powerful. It’s sort of turning this idea that the volume up on it a little bit, and I think it makes for a much more dynamic image. Just having those few handles poke out and break loose, it makes our eyes move around a little bit more, creates a little bit of tension in a way, in an image that otherwise could be static. It could be dangerously static and easier to just breeze past.

So another example that doesn’t use cropping, or the edge of the frame, is shadows. Now, this is a really great place. We can bury details in shadows, and it has the same effect. It forces our brains to kind of fill in details, and they don’t have to be huge jumps. Like a lot of this stuff is just little details that it doesn’t really impact the story much if it’s there or if it’s not, but it can increase the dynamic energy by hiding a few of them.

So here’s an image that I took and to me when I was looking at this image, this is what I saw, when I was looking at this kid playing with this light table. This was at the children’s Museum of Sonoma County during a shoot I did for them last year.

And there’s magic in this little interaction between the kid and his eyes and this and the lights. To me, that’s the whole story. So, it was already pretty contrast-y when I shot it. The shadows were pretty dark, but you could see all the back of his clothes and you could see a bit of a wall behind him and you could see his mom kind of lurking in the shadows back there. And you could kind of see her, but not really. All those things were distractions. And so I crushed the shadows way down, which I think clarified the story, made for a better image, but it also has this wonderful effect of forcing our brains to fill in details. We know that the back of his clothes are made out of the same stuff the front of his clothes are, and we’re not even going to consciously think about that for a second, but our brain will subconsciously fill that detail in editing and it engages us. Little things like that, There’s mystery in shadows, which is a whole another layer to this conversation where when we see inky, black parts of an image, there’s a part of our brains that always wonders what’s there. At least, I like to think that.

Anyways, so there you have it. Shadows are another powerful tool to create a little bit of extra story that the brain has to fill in to make our images a little bit more dynamic.

So, the tip for today is next time you’re out shooting, try to find a way to leave something out, and you might find that you create an image that’s a lot more interesting and a lot more engaging to your audience as a result.

So as always, thank you for your time. I hope that this was a helpful tip. If you have any questions or ideas that you’d like me to discuss in a future episode, drop me a line, and I’ll work them in. Until next time.