Today’s title is, of course, tongue and cheek. No photographs were spoiled by a person or thing unexpectedly appearing in my camera’s field of view. I am instead referring to the many times I have used an unintended subject for my own creative purposes to enhance a photograph or add an ephemeral quality to a composition. I am rather fond of placing a fortuitous element in the foreground of my pictures to lend a hint of whimsy or atmosphere to an otherwise straightforward capture. Let me start you off with an example to drive home the point.
The photograph below was captured as I wandered the streets of Capri, Italy last summer. Rather than focusing on the entire street scene, I inched closer to the Oleander bush in the foreground and used it as a blurry pop of color. I love the cheeky nature of this photograph. It’s a quiet street scene, but with a bit of sass, as if the flower was saying, you will notice me.
Foliage is something I lean on frequently to soften a portrait or create a daydreamy character to the photograph. I often use what is already in close proximity to my subject, but I have also been known to grab a handful of leaves and hold them between my camera and my subject to get the job done.
Or have my subject do the holding for me, as my son did here with a wildflower.
I also love the idea of using my subject as a frame for the landscape. The photographs below would be garden-variety landscape scenes (at best) were it not for the addition of my children in each of them. The boys, placed in the foreground, have been intentionally blurred — their presence is strongly felt, but the subject is the landscape in the distance.
This style of shooting brings me back to a favorite quote of mine by David Alan Harvey, “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.” Again and again, I am drawn to photographs that capture a sense of wonder, rather than a literal interpretation of what we see. I yearn for photographs that breathe with emotion. And this is not to say that technique is not involved. To be clear, I am making decisions about aperture and focus each time I do this. I am just choosing to bend and shape the rules of composition in the process.
I am often shooting in the water and have learned to use dreaded water spots to my own advantage whenever possible. With the right light, water on my lens port is as magical as bokeh.
Here’s one from the Santa Monica Pier that I love. The blurry tourist in the foreground is doing exactly what we would expect on vacation — snapping photos of the beach scene below. By blurring her in the foreground there is so much more depth and atmosphere to this photograph.
Photography is such a magical medium. We begin our journey by reading our camera manuals and studying all the classic, prescribed techniques, but the real fun begins when we find our true selves as artists. I hope you are always striving to find your voice and recognize the magic therein. Happy shooting.