One way of re­duc­ing is to cut down the num­ber of vis­ual el­e­ments

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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.

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