While watching Creative Outdoor Photography (a photography workshop DVD by outdoor photography masters Galen Rowell and Frans Lanting), I was reminded where images for great photography are found.

Galen Rowell only touched on it in the workshop, but I think it was actually a strong part of his life philosophy (Rowell died in a plane crash in August 2002). If you want to create great photographs, you have to go to the edge.

Photography Finds Contrast at the Edge

If you're at all familiar with Galen Rowell and his photography, you know he went to the edge in every way to get his visions on film. In fact, when asked how to find great images, he didn't say go to a high mountain or anywhere at dawn. He simply said, "Go to the edge." (Something self-help guru Tony Robbins says as well.) That's the perfect answer because it can be interpreted in so many ways:

  • Go to the edge of the day (morning and evening light)
  • Go to the edge of a subject (form and shape are on the edges)
  • Go the edge of dark and light (where light and shadow meet)
  • Go to the edge of optics (macro or telephoto)
  • Etc.

On the practical side, great photography starts on the physical edges of subjects because edges provide contrast: Edges are where light and shadow meet, sky and horizon, ocean and sand. Photographers are always trying to find ways to show contrast in their images, and looking for subjects on or with edges is a good start.

Photography Finds Drama at the Edge

Beyond the optical characteristics of edges, the edges of a scene are also where you find emotion. As I discussed in my post on the importance of diagonal lines in a photograph, the edge is where drama and emotions are found, because diagonals (special edges) stimulate an emotion are response.

Simple put, our eyes are drawn to diagonal lines.

Rowell speculated this was because our brains had evolved to notice diagonals because diagonals were more likely to eat us. Come to think of it, the S curve stimulates an emotional response as well, though for very different reasons. Whatever the case, the lesson remains:

Go to the edge to find emotion.

Cheating on the Edge

During the workshop, Galen was photographing a fern in the blue light of shadow. But he chose a location near the edge or boundary where sunset light met shadow. Because of this choice of location (and timing), Rowell was able to use a reflector to bounce in the warm light of the setting sun into the bluish shadow scene -- that totally transforms the image, gives it color and depth. This simple technique can bring a drab scene or subject to life.

Galen Rowell: A Retrospective
Tom Brokaw (Foreword), Editors of Sierra Club Books

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