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Show the subject unclearly
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Show the subject unclearly

Mystery and obscurity are good things


Sometimes, instead of showing a subject clearly, try deliberately photographing it vaguely, obscurely, or unclearly. Now, why on earth would you do that?

One reason is simple: variety. Why should you photograph everything like it's going to be displayed on e-Bay for a buyer to inspect? Another reason is mood. Obscuring a subject to some degree changes the ambience of a picture, allowing several moods, depending on the circumstances, to come into play.

By crowding the aerial swings with the wild colors of a carnival food stand, the picture shifts the theme from a subject to a mood—fun festivities.

A mystery wrapped in an enigma

Shyness, mystery, sinisterness, and dysfunctionality are just a few of the mood-altering scenarios that could appear by treating the subject obscurely. Even freshness or discovery could find its way into your pictures by giving pictures this unusual approach. Keep in mind that most subjects aren't showcased in the world like a prized vase or a fountain in a landscape garden. They simply exist in a busy environment, and you in your normal photographic technique pry them away from their clinging surroundings to show them clearly.

I veiled these windowsill flowers with the curtain to add a sense of mystery.

The landscape and nature photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum excels in revealing (or not revealing) natural subjects this way. Branches, leaves, and boulders block the view of a waterfall in the mid-distance, giving you the sense that you are seeing it for the first time after bushwhacking through the woods. With this technique, you also get a much greater sense of subjects being in context, of belonging to a greater world and a bigger picture which redefines their existence. In context, they are not an independent entity but part of an ecosystem. In actuality, no thing exists in the world apart from all other things.

The next time you're out, practice being obscure (my wife says this comes natural to me) and instead of showcasing a subject front and center, step back, move to the side, use a wide-angle lens, and reveal the subject not clearly but vaguely, as belonging and interacting in a bigger context.

Placing the waterfall behind a fence can be interpreted two ways: civilization has imprisoned the waterfall or nature is at peril(and being protected from humans.



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