CUT IT OUT
One way of reducing is to cut down the number of visual elements
There is more than one way to reduce in photography. We just saw what happens when you empty the frame, but another approach is to strip an image down to the bare essentials; in other words, the fewest necessary things. The final result may look similar to emptying, and you might suspect that I’m just splitting hairs, but the working method is different, and as the example here shows, is often a process of elimination. This usually, though not always, involves choosing a visually plain setting for all or some of the frame. It also usually means having relatively small subject elements, and you can make these smaller by changing your viewpoint and focal length. Where they sit in this plain setting is important, and there’s some advantage in placing them eccentrically, because that gives extra emphasis to the backdrop.
Less is more
It’s impossible to talk about reducing in an image without tripping over minimalism. “Less is more” became the minimalist
mantra, first by the architect Mies van der Rohe, then altered slightly by designer Dieter Rams as “Less, but better”, and happily adopted by creatives everywhere. The idea of distilling the essence of a scene visually has a natural appeal.
This photograph of a tea plantation in southern Japan went through stages of taking things out of the frame by means of framing and focal length. Like almost all others in the country, it was immaculately neat. This is partly due to the tidy streak in the Japanese character, but practically because of the almost total mechanization. Japanese harvesters are the last word in sophistication, and ‘carve’ perfectly sculpted rows of bushes.
The shot began by concentrating on the one-man-operated harvester, but it soon seemed a much better idea to concentrate on the strictly ordered rows of tea bushes, and contrast them with the machine (it certainly helped that the colours – green and red – were complementary). That meant waiting to shoot until the harvester was at the far end of the field, and I stayed with a wide-angle lens, at around 30mm, to keep the machine small. As the sequence shows, it was then a matter of framing to remove other elements such as the road and even the small patch of distant, lighter and hazier trees upper left. Finally, though, I switched to a longer focal length, 95mm, to remove the strong perspective feature of the lines separating the rows. The result is an almost abstract construction of two greens and a red dot. Tea harvesting in the hills around Yame in the southern Japanese Island of Kyushu
In four stages, this scene of a Japanese tea plantation was reduced from fairly busy, left, to just three elements on the right: tea bushes, harvester and trees. The two longer shots, left and right, are two-frame pan-andstitch images, a technique I often use when I want a slight panoramic effect.