However much I stray from the traditional path into abstraction with my photography, I still remind myself of the fundamental ingredients that must come together to create a successful photograph: shape, balance, and tonality. Of these vital ingredients, initially the most important is shape. Call it structure, call it a framework, but without a coherent shape to recognise and then follow, the viewer will be left to wander aimlessly without purpose around your picture.
This lack at the start of a guiding hand for their eye will almost certainly result in the viewer arriving at a very hasty decision…this photograph is not for me, I’m moving on, and quickly. Whereas a photograph with a well thought out construction, one that starts with an easily recognisable launch point, followed by an equally easy-to-spot next step will be one that holds the viewer’s initial attention and offers them an incentive to find further reward from continuing to explore the picture.
In a photograph of the vista everything is nearly always explained from the start, whereas a successful abstract image has to involve much more of a dialogue between the photographer and the viewer; a meeting of minds at a point further into the visual journey. It is this ambiguity within an abstract image that makes it so important that the photograph has shape and structure, however subtle. If it contains a sense of direction then the viewer responds to this and their visual journey continues long enough for that crucial dialogue between viewer and photographer to open up. Then through the use of balance and tonality a photograph unfolds further.
This slow realisation of the photographer’s creative intention can’t be achieved by the viewer without a compositional framework at the beginning that holds their attention and encourages them to stay enveloped within the picture. Using the word slow in this context is still relative, however. In abstract imagery, the speed a viewer “reads” a photograph may well be reduced compared to the all-explained photograph of the larger landscape. But in the modern era, where there is an ever-increasing familiarity with photography, it will still be electrifyingly fast.
Imagery is now a fundamental part of our everyday lives, from the moment we log-on to a computer or our phones at the start of the day, to the final stretch for the off button at the end. Add television and films into the mix and the hard disks within our brains are now storing more imagery than at any other point in history.
As a consequence, the viewer’s eye is becoming ever more sophisticated, with a ready appreciation of good photography, but a hasty reluctance to spend time on a picture they feel does not deserve their attention. So as attention spans reduce, the need for a photographer to build an obvious framework into their picture is becoming ever more vital. Strength through simplicity has always been desirable in a composition, and in the modern era it is becoming imperative if you do not want the viewer of your photograph to quickly click the mouse, swipe the screen or turn the page and move on.