A very long time ago when I was studying photography at the Medway College of Design I was surrounded by like-minded and equally obsessive photography students who all wanted to unlock the many ‘secrets’ of great photography so that we could all some-day be someone. We were only a very short distance along the journey (it was the first term of the first year) when we were set a project to shoot an object against a background where the object would be very small and still have great composition and make sense. It was a lesson that I will always remember for two reasons:
- The first is that I loved it and actually shot four or five entirely different pictures – ranging from a damp and golden autumnal leaf on a grey path to a red balloon against a bright blue sky.
- The second reason is that during a group critique someone (and I have no memory who) said “space makes you think”.
Space makes you think has stuck with me to this day and as a short and snappy phrase it appears in my thinking and in my discussions on a very regular basis. From the day I learned that lesson and then learned to leave space in my compositions for mastheads, strap line, type and headlines I have always looked for pictures with space. Cropping images really tightly is a great way to shoot some subjects and I remember another phrase from my student days which sums that up too “if an element doesn’t add to the composition then it detracts from it”. That’s also true and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why photography is so enthralling, confusing, infuriating and rewarding. Two ‘rules’ that appear to directly contradict one another that form the basis of one of those secrets that we as students of the art/science/profession spend our lives trying to grasp and the interpret in our own ways.
Rules are there to be obeyed most of the time and broken often enough to make sure that we remain creative in our thinking. That was true back at Medway College, it still is and I hope it always will be.
* Those other “obsessives” included Jez Coulson, David Chancellor, Bill Green, Richard Gosler, Mike Cooper, John Baxter, Richard Ansett and Andy Eaves who, I am delighted to tell you, are all still as obsessed as they were! There were 28 photographers in our year and I’m sure more than those listed above are still plying the trade.