Is imagination more important than knowledge ? Albert Einstein certainly thought so; he went on to explain that “knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Although seemingly tenuous, this observation has profound connotations for photographers. Photography is a process of distillation and extraction. Unlike the painter, who builds up their image in an additive way, starting with nothing and slowly adding paint to their canvas, we start with everything and systematically crop down our area of interest, excluding unwanted detail from the peripheries, as we frame our intended scene. This is the art of composition.
By cropping down and concentrating our attention on a diminishing extraction of reality, by removing knowledge of the true nature of the surroundings, we can stimulate an increasing demand for imagination in the viewer by encouraging them to create their own imaginary world surrounding the scene in our photograph. This act of framing also simplifies our images. It is sometimes possible to create successful compositions only including our immediate vicinity, consisting entirely of foreground detail. Compositions strengthened by their simplicity.
As I stood there on the shingle at Cley during a freezing-cold January dawn, the waves gently lapping over my Wellingtons; it was hard to ignore the beautiful vista surrounding the rising sun to my right, and concentrate my creative efforts on this simple arrangement of sun-kissed pebbles and surf. I pushed the tripod legs into the shingle to ensure a stable platform and chose an exposure of 0.3 seconds to offer just a hint of movement in the water, then rhythmically pressed the button on the remote shutter-release in time with the waves as I observed the constantly changing composition using live-view on the back of my Canon 1Ds3.
By reviewing the images on the LCD, I was able to slowly build up a more accurately visualised result. It soon became apparent that the waves were occasionally surrounding the large pebble and this provided the strongest arrangement. With this knowledge, I was able to hone my efforts towards capturing my intended composition with the surrounding surf offering the large pebble some ‘breathing-space’, and the warm reflected light to stimulating our imagination.