Suggestion

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I recently went on a camping trip through western Norway on my way home from Trondheim where I had visited family. I had brought my camera and thought I would spend some time taking pictures. In the end, I did not photograph that much, but at one of the places I stopped to photograph along the way, when thinking about the composition, I realized that I could make a more interesting image by suggesting something and leave it to the imagination of the viewer instead of directly photographing it. Maybe the rest of the world already knows this, but I have found little about suggestion in the photo books I have read thus far.

Barstaddalen with field
Barstaddalen

The place I stopped was in the mouth of a valley, just by the edge of the fjord. At first, I was impressed by one of the mountains that had a very steep decline into the fjord and photographed it. I then saw a beautiful vista of a a field, some houses, some trees and the mountains framing the scene. I shot from eye level and the image was quite nice.

I then walked around for a bit and found a place where a road by a stream led the eye further into the valley and towards the mountains. When I first looked through the viewfinder, it looked nice with leading lines emphasizing the central perspective and guiding the eye towards the snow-clad mountains in the background, but the mountains on either side of the image were not as impressive as I felt them to be when not looking through the viewfinder. (The magnification is 0.84 if I remember correctly on the GX8, so when I use a lens like the Sigma 19 that has no perspective distortion when I am shooting in the 3:2 aspect ratio, things only look slightly smaller than in real life in the viewfinder.)

I wanted to make the mountains larger in my image, so I flipped up the EVF to get a waist level view instead. That looked quite nice, but something about the composition was still not right. I realized that if I went a little bit closer to the rail of the bridge over the stream and a bit to the left, I could make the mountains on either side rise towards the top left and top right corner of the frame and thus suggest that the mountains continued upwards outside the frame (even though in reality, that only happened on the left side of the frame and not on the right). By not including the highest points on either side (which were just outside the frame after my repositioning), the image suggested the landscape was even more grandiose and let a part of the scene to the viewer’s imagination.

Barstaddalen with river
Barstaddalen with river

As someone that appreciates framing the whole scene and leaving a bit of space, preferably equal on each side of the main subject since symmetry is nice, it sort of surprised me to realize that by not having the whole scene in the frame, I could actually amplify the scene in the head of my viewers by suggesting something instead of showing it. I wonder if I can find other situations where I could use suggestion to amplify an image and spark the imaginations of my viewers. I tend to shoot landscapes, but are there ways to use suggestion in the composition of portraiture except the obvious hiding of body parts by clothing? What about architecture? Cutting the skyscrapers’ tops off to not tell definitively their height? What about interior shots? Could one suggest size by using composition instead of wide angle lenses or mirrors? I have a few ideas for landscapes that I will try out in the near future.

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