So one of the questions I get a lot is – “how do you avoid distractions when you’re documenting in an uncontrolled environment?” Well the answer is, I don’t avoid them – I just make them work for me and turn them into compositional elements INSTEAD OF distractions. So “what’s the difference?” or “how can you tell if something is a distraction or not?” might be the next question.
I’m so glad you asked! Let me show you an example…
The following two images were taken within nanoseconds of each other. As we walked upon this scene I knew it had potential but the shot I wanted was going to be very dependent upon timing and composition. I wanted it to feel a little gritty, here we are parading our two year old on the streets of Siesta Key Village on Easter Sunday and we are heading to the Daquiri Deck where a bunch of people are drinking and smoking. I wanted to include these men sitting outside – I found the line of his outstretched arm and the way it mirrored the leading lines of the hanging lights really interesting. I also loved how Isla was looking back at her Grandma and how we could see some of the menu board which also gives a sense of environment and hints at the fact that we are approaching a restaurant.
So why is one image so much better than the other? In the first image (SOOC), the background is distracting. In the second image it’s serving to create a unique composition that emphasizes my story. Let’s play that game that used to be in the Highlights Magazines where you find all the things that are different between two pictures!
- man’s arm is merging (intersecting) Isla
- blue pole coming out of Isla’s head
- Grandma is holding a hat as she is walking and it’s distracting me (had she been holding something relevant like a sippy cup or a margarita I would have not minded at all)
- the man in the yellow shirt is merging with Grandma’s head (you can’t see enough of him to make him interesting in my opinion and the merger is really getting on my nerves)
- the menu board is visible but the two letters “SK” are kind of bothering me… it draws my eye and I want to know what it says (that alone wouldn’t be enough to make me scrap an image but in light of all the other distractions I’m throwing it out there as well)
- man’s arm is shown holding a lit cigarette and leads right to Isla (love this stark contrast between a soft, sweet child and kind of rough, smoky environment)
- strings of lights are leading my eye right to Isla
- Grandma’s hand is down so no distracting hat
- the yellow shirt man is mostly covered by Grandma’s head so I don’t notice him
- the menu board is less distracting and more relevant and the visibility of sand dollar and starfish decor add to the beach vibe (we were a short walk from the beach)
- the final edit helps to pull this all together and eliminate distracting colors and give more importance to the lines and composition in my image
So the lesson here is this: wait for the right moment and then snap a few back to back and compare them to find the perfect shot! Sometimes the difference between an image you scrap and an image you love is literally a split second!
I hope this is helpful and please don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have them!