I recently wrote that photography is essentially a reductive medium:
We start with the whole wide world, then choose to frame a small sliver of it in our viewfinder. Sometimes, we focus on a part of the frame with a shallow depth of field and blur the foreground and background into bokeh. Sometimes, we saturate or sharpen a part of the image in editing to make it more prominent, and desaturate or darken other parts to make them less prominent. Every photo, thus, is series of reductions, deliberate or accidental.
That’s true, and, most of the time, I do enjoy framing tightly and capturing an isolated detail with my current favorite 75mm lens. But, sometimes, I don’t want to choose between capturing one detail or another, I want to capture them all together, with a wide-angle 24mm lens, in a multi-layered, maximalist composition full of color and texture and contrast.
Exhibit A is my recently redecorated balcony: I moved LeelaCat’s cat tree out here to make space for a rocking chair in my bedroom, threw an off-white table cloth over the washing machine and dryer to go with the jute baskets on top of them, and moved some plants around so that Leela can look over a canopy of green from her perch. Next, I’m going to add some macrame hanging planters from the clothes drying rods next to the ceiling.
This photograph is about all of these details: Leela perched on the top of her cat tree with her favorite toy wand and her favorite ball of string; the variety of plants big and small surrounding her (birds of paradise, money tree, fiddle leaf fig, yucca, the philodendrons on the windowsill, the ZZ plants under them); the color and the texture of the jute baskets; the strong architectural lines of the doors and windows.
I could have cleaned up the composition a little by throwing a cover over the treadmill in the background, removing the drying clothes from behind the translucent partition, and removing the ring light in the den (it does add a touch of whimsy to the photo). I’ll do all that the next time I find Leela perched peacefully on the top of the cat tree.
I did use the geometry tool in Lightroom to straighten up the vertical lines in the photo. The wide angle lens distorts the angle of the lines, even though I tried to keep the lens level. The parallel vertical lines do make the composition feel less chaotic. I also tried a black and white conversion, and it came out surprisingly crisp; without the saturated colors of the plants and the baskets, Leela is a little more prominent, framed by the dark semi-circle of leaves around her. I do prefer the softer, warmer, color version. Finally, I took this photo wide open at f2.8 aperture, and that results in the somewhat out-of-focus jute baskets, but that’s a good thing because they would have been far too prominent if fully sharp at f8.
I’ll most likely take this photograph with a wide angle lens again sometime soon, this time with the hanging plants, to add another layer of detail to this already maximalist composition. I think of myself as a recovering minimalist, and I’m learning to stop worrying and love the maximalism, both in life and in photography:
I feel like I have come full circle: from two truckloads, to five bags, back to two truckloads… The thing is: two truckloads feels just enough for this moment in life. If I was to do a Marie Kondo test on my possessions — does it spark joy — almost all of it would tingle… And, now that I am learning photography in quarantine… every little thing in the house becomes a potential subject, a new shape to capture shadows, a new texture to bounce off light, a new dash of colour to brighten a composition.