Simplification and Accents

May 19, 2024

Driftwood, Mullimburra Point Beach, NSWDriftwood, Mullimburra Point Beach, NSW

Driftwood, Mullimburra Point Beach, NSW
Fujifilm X-H2, Fujinon XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, f11 @ 2 seconds, ISO 64

Whether judging competitions or helping photographers with their images at workshops, I'm often struck by how much better a photograph could be if only it were simplified. 

When looking up Wikipedia to check the spelling of German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's name, I discovered that the phrase 'less is more' could be traced back well before Mr Rohe - back to Ancient Greece in fact! However, when I studied art, 'less is more' seemed to be 'more or less' fundamental to the modernism with which it is commonly associated. In terms of architecture, it said forget all the swirls and ornamentation of the Baroque era and use what is purely functional to create a cleaner aesthetic.

Okay, so I'm sure I have bastardised this concept and in any event, simplification isn't necessarily quite the same as 'less is more', but it is amazing how often people understand what I'm getting at when they hear it.

On our workshop last week, we were dodging rain squalls at Mullimburra Point. I confess to loving the experience of being out in the rain, but it takes a workshop environment to get me to do it. On the beach were a number of trees embedded in the sand and a couple of smaller branches sitting on top. After the other photographers had taken their shots (we were all being super careful about unwanted footprints in the sand), I gradually moved in on this branch. To begin, I included the horizon and the headlands in the frame, but the image was too busy. What did I want you to look at? The beach? The sky? The headlands? None of the above - it was the driftwood that looked like a character written onto the soft sand.

Gradually I moved my tripod closer and closer until I was more or less on top of the tree branch, but while the branch and sand were 'simple', it wasn't enough. So, yes, simplification is important, but that doesn't mean the photo has to be boring as well!

Every now and then, a wave would wash up the beach, getting close to the branch. The white water and its shape in the corner of the image created an 'accent', a point of difference. Of course, as soon as I wanted a wave in the frame, the ocean went quiet and I was probably waiting for around 20 minutes before an appropriate wave. But at least it wasn't raining!


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