The devil is in the details

When I was a young photo student my instructors told me that there were always pictures within pictures. They would show a student’s photo of an overall scene as an example and then, using their hands, crop into a tighter portion to show how the student missed the show by not getting close enough.

Many times when I’m covering an event, to tell the story visually I’m looking for an overall shot, a medium shot and finally a close-up shot. Frequently that last tight detail photo can be just the right accent to the story.

People always think to take a picture an overall of a scene but forget about the details that can be within a scene. I suppose it’s only natural to see the entire “forest” of a photograph and forget about the individual “trees,” but you can find some visual gems that can be hidden, sometimes in plain sight, in the details of that scene.

Photographing details requires the thinking on a smaller scale. One has to filter out the broader view and narrow their focus on what may be just a miniscule, yet still interesting, part of the scene. Using a macro or close-up lens helps. It allows you to see the details and texture of a world that’s often missed. The bark of a tree, peeling paint on an old building or the veins of a leaf are all good subjects for capturing detail. You might be photographically attracted to a bright field of wildflowers but also think about getting a single blossom or even a few petals of that flower as well. Trees changing to their fall colors are also a favorite subject but a single bright yellow or red leaf or two can be just as interesting as a whole forest of hues.

Just getting close isn’t always enough. You still have to think about composition as well. Simple, non-distracting backgrounds and foregrounds help to make your subjects pop out. Lighting is also important. A flat noonday sun tends to unappealing. Wait for light that occurs earlier or later in the day for the low angle of light to help bring out the texture in your close-up details. Finally take extra care in focusing. Because you’re probably dealing with minimum focusing distances of your lens you’re likely to have minimal depth of field. You can use that to your advantage, though. Having your subject tack sharp with everything else out of focus will help to emphasize it all the more. You just have to make sure what you want in focus is sharply focused or it all becomes a fuzzy mush.

A detail can be a supplement to other photos or it can be something that can stand on it’s own. Either way all it takes is a shifting of some mental gears and thinking of things on a smaller scale.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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