“The subject here is not at all clear. There is too much going on and the viewer is not being directed where to look. It’s easy, with interesting subjects like this, to try and include too much…” ~Darlene Hildebrandt
The picture was actually very nice, but it was very busy, and I couldn’t decide where my eyes should be focused because there were so many things in the photo. The photo was part of an article I was reading about how to review or critique a photograph, but what I heard was so much more. I heard advice for living my life well, for being the best me I might be. If my life were a photograph, how would a reviewer handle what he sees? Would there be, and should there be, a clear subject in my life? Maybe there won’t be just one subject in a person’s life, but when there is too much going on, when we try to include too much, the subject will not be clear. Not only will we the onlooker not recognize what is important, neither will we.
In every English class I have ever taken I can remember how difficult it was for me to pick out the topic sentence in a sample paragraph because I seemed to see so many possibilities. Now, I’m learning that my photos should also have a clear topic, subject, or focus. There is a theme in all of this that is leading me to think that my scattered days of years gone by could have been much more impactful and impressive had I understood the power of focusing on a clear and simple subject.
Whether you consider yourself a fan of Microsoft or Mac, the late Steve Jobs of Apple is a prime example of the importance and power of focus. Tim Cook has said that Jobs insisted they (Apple) only focus on two or three priorities at time. In Jobs’ words, “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
I used to want to move mountains, but I have settled into simpler goals these days. What about you? Are you trying to do so much to move a mountain that you cannot maintain your focus on your goal? I don’t think you have to be the head of a successful corporation, like Steve Jobs, to appreciate the value of focus and simplicity, but I don’t think you can become the head of a successful corporation without them.
I have my camera ready to shoot your life picture, what will be in the photograph? What is the subject in your life, in your job, or just in your day? The article I was reading suggested a few ways to make your subject clear (in a photo), and there were a couple of items fairly applicable to life:
- The subject is the largest, most prominent, thing in the image.
- Keep it really simple. If there is only one thing in the photo, it makes the subject pretty clear.
In life, as in photos, whatever is prominent is the subject. If you are working two jobs not to make ends meet but to be better than everyone else, there’s your life focus–to outdo someone else. If making time for your family’s activities is where the light shines in your ‘photo’, you have found your subject–being part of a healthy family. Your subject at 18 is different than your subject at 30 and different still at 80. Having a single clear subject for your life photo at any stage is better than having it crammed with too many to count, or to accomplish.
In your daily life, focus will change more than in the big picture of life. If you need to get three loads of laundry cleaned and put away, but you only manage to peruse Facebook or Instagram for 3 hours, you’ve found your focus even if it isn’t the one you had hoped to have.
In your job, you should have a list of items framed by your job description to help you keep the focus in the correct place.
You like to take pictures of still life and I like to take pictures of people. When someone has all of the answers for what should be important to you, you can tell them that what matters to them is great, but it doesn’t have to be what matters to you. Yes, you are allowed to want different things for yourself than your parents might want. Your topic sentence doesn’t have to be the focus of my photograph.
How do you know what should be the most prominent thing in your image or your day? Only you can know what really matters to you. Take time to think about it right now, maybe by first making a list of everything that might need to take center stage and then choose the one, two, three or four things that you can immediately say “These should be my focus, allowing me to keep it simple and clear.”
Some of my favorite photos involve my daddy. One in which he is teaching my young sons how to fill the bird feeder is probably my number one, and the photo he took of my oldest son as a two year-old whistling is my second favorite. As I read Hildebrandt’s article on reviewing photos for what works and what doesn’t, I knew why these two photos captured my heart–they have clear and simple subjects, they each tell a story, and they are composed well with people I love.
Take a picture of your life and notice if you have too many good things in the photo. It’s impossible to know what the viewer (or you) should be focusing on when it is cluttered. The same is true for your life and for mine. We have to start somewhere, and I have a great 35mm just calling to me to be used.