The picture within the picture

I don’t remember where I first heard it, or who first said it, but a long time ago some smart photographer told me to look for the picture within the picture. In case you are not familiar with that phrase, it means that sometimes other pictures can be found within a picture. For example, a picture of a forest may contain a great scene of a unique tree surrounded by empty space. In this case, it might make sense to crop the original image so that the isolated tree is the main subject of a second image. The fundamental principle behind this logic is to make sure the subject is prominent in the photograph. It seems kind of obvious, but it is surprising how often the subject of a photograph is lost in the surrounding elements of the composition. 

That wisdom of the picture within the picture is as sound today as it was the first time I heard it. Any photographer worth their salt knows about it. And I am here to give you one more example today.

The image I want to use to illustrate this point is the recent one I posted of the Himalayan mountain range. This is a very special image to me. Obviously! I mean I was standing only 10 miles away from Mount Everest! It was a very emotionally significant moment for me. I mean a significantly emotionally significant moment. It brings back fantastic memories for me every time I look at it.

However, when I look at it strictly as a photograph, I have to admit that there is something lacking in this image. I’m not sure exactly what it is. Perhaps it is all the detail. Perhaps it is the tonality, or the boring sky, or something else I don’t quite understand. But there has always been something missing in this photograph for me. Recently, after I posted the original version of this image, I took a step back. I asked myself, “what is the subject of this photograph?” Is it the sky? Is it the mountain range? Is it the snow? Perhaps the clouds? With so many options for a subject, clearly this image suffers from too many distractions. Maybe that is the problem I’ve had with it all along: there is too much visual stuff going on!

So the voice in my head encouraged me to find the picture within the picture. Then it hit me as I started to play with different crops. Of course! The subject is Mount Everest! Duh! But in the original version I posted, Mount Everest is lost back in the distance. So I zoomed in on Mount Everest and I found what I had been looking for: the subject! After the crop, the new image needed some midtone contrast, so I added that and a little dodging and burning. Check out the image included here. Maybe you agree with me. Maybe you don’t. Maybe both versions of the image are simply different views of the same thing.  Personally, I prefer the zoomed in version. Boom! Mount Everest!

Of course, this technique has a downside. Namely, the loss of pixels. Consequently, the image will start to get very fuzzy as it is enlarged, especially in a print.

Maybe you have pictures within your pictures and this will encourage you to seek them out. If you have questions about how to do that, let me know! Good luck!

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