We have been doing a lot of online image reviews during these stay at home times, and landscape images have been a hot topic. One thing I see a lot of is a technically perfect image…but no tension in the image. What does this mean? Think of tension as eye movement, not necessarily drama or mood. If the eye doesn’t have a pathway through an image, chances are it will be less successful. We want to engage a viewer, stimulate their sense of curiosity, and create an interactive experience. If the viewer looks at your image, and the eye just rests at one spot in the image, then this photograph isn’t going to be one of our best.
What camera craft can we use to create this eye movement in an image? One technique is using perspective to our advantage. Perspective is defined as a point of view. But with photography, not only is point of view important, but also angle of view and lens choice. Take a look at this image of rock formations (at top) in Capitol Reef National Park. A nice overview shot…technically right on the mark, but lacking visually. The eye will roam around this shot and take it in, but there isn’t much direction to follow…not a lot of tension.
Look closer at the image and you can see what is the most interesting part. By zooming on the contrasting colors and graphic lines, now the eye is directed to stronger elements with obvious tension between the foreground and background elements. This is accomplished by using 200mm instead of 50mm. Remember, you don’t photograph what you see, but how you see.
Take a look at another scene from the area. This fist shot is a snapshot, not a photograph. I’m simply recording the scene with some interesting parts, and using good technique to document the scene. The eye is like a wandering cowboy through the sagebrush, just doesn’t know where to go. No tension.
But by using a wide angle perspective, and getting close to the foreground, now a new subject relationship is created in the image. Using a wide angle, and getting close to the foreground, causes the foreground subject to get bigger, and the background subject to get smaller. But this is good…I want the foreground bush to be more dominant and create tension with the background. This shot is out of balance, and is more dynamic as a result. Now I have created a photograph. I have used perspective and angle of view to change subject relationships.
Always ask yourself why you are photographing a scene. If you can identify what attracts you to the shot, then you can use design and photo technique to create an interesting image with tension. Engage the viewer, create order out of chaos, and your audience will pause and experience your photograph perhaps the way you felt when you took it.