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Why It’s Wrong for Photographers to Say ‘Get Closer’

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Related course: Simply Stunning Landscapes

‘Get closer’, sounds a bit funny really, doesn’t it? How can photographers get away with telling someone this, and calling it a tip? And yet, we hear it all the time. I’ve read full blog posts on the subject, as if it’s some sort of law, when in reality, it’s far from it.
There are elements of truth to it though.
‘Get closer’ is wrong, but the theory behind it, is right. Bear with me.
You see, when we talk about composition, we talk about putting together parts of the frame, to make an appealing looking photo. In reality, this is far from possible. I might want a lamp post moved about a bit, but I’ll be darned if I’m actually going to dig it out of the ground and move it.
Composition in photography is about working with what you already have in your frame, and if we want to change the composition of the photo, we have to move. When we move around, we can change the arrangement of the frame, as well as including, or excluding different parts of the frame. This is where we get to the ‘get closer’ advice.
Whatever doesn’t add, takes away.
Who’s heard that before when it comes to photography? Everyone I hope.
I couldn’t agree with it more. If there’s an element in your frame which is distracting to me, then it’s drawing me away from the main subject, so it should be removed. Doesn’t add? Take it away.
The trouble is though, that the ‘get closer’ method is usually used for this, and while it’s often right to do so, it’s not always the best thing to do. If you’re constantly looking to get closer, you’re isolating more and more potential elements for your photo, but what if there’s a bigger picture?
Take a step back and see what else could be in your frame.
Here’s a good example, a black and white scene of a lake in Copenhagen. What’s that in the corner though? It’s a leaf, and I think we can all agree that it’s distracting. Lets remove it, and see if that helps.A black and white scene of a lake in Copenhagen with a branch in the top left corner
Well, ok, it’s gone, but it’s a bit dull to look at. The leaf was making the photo look worse, but take away the distraction, and it’s clear that it’s not a very interesting photo. There’s far too much dead space at the top. I ‘got closer’ (albeit digitally) and, yes, it’s less distracting, but it’s not a good photo.A black and white scene of a lake in Copenhagen without a leaf in the foreground
How about taking taking a step back, see if there’s something more we could add to the photo, to bring back the balance, without having a single distracting element. A row of leaves at the top of the frame help to kill the dead space, and mirror the darkening from the bottom half of the image. It gives you a feeling of shade which matches the shadows on the ground on the left. It may not be a perfect image, but it’s certainly the best of the three.A black and white scene of a lake in Copenhagen with leaves on the top part of the foreground
So you see, getting closer isn’t a secret trick to take better photos, it’s about removing distracting elements from your frame. And while I’m all for this, you need to pay attention to the bigger picture. Literally.
Cliche as it sounds, when it comes to photography, ‘rules’ are made to be broken.
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3 comments
  1. Nice article, and what you have talked about here makes complete sense for something-scape (landscape, cityscape, etc.) photography. But the “get close” tip usually rules the world of street/documentary photography. And I believe that it is completely true for that. Using a wide lens to get the environment around the main subject and then getting close is what gives life and soul to the picture. It is only then that the viewer can actually feel that he/she is present in the scene and observing life from a distance as close as possible.

  2. I think your blog and the one that ‘spurred’ you on, are both right. I think your each talking about different situations. You are looking at a large landscape image and D-P-S is talking about moving in close on a small subject. Two very different situations. Each solution that is presented by both would not work for the others situation.
    I think both blogs are right for the situation that is presented.

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