All photographs share one thing in common. Each one features the “meat and potatoes.” In other words, this is the main event of the photograph. The “meat and potatoes” could be any number of things—the subject, a prominent theme that has been created through inclusion of various elements, textures, and colors, or some other thing.
The point is, this is the main thing that you’re drawn to in an image. If it’s a portrait, then it’s the person. In a landscape, it might be the horizon line. Abstracts often draw you in with beautiful blends of colors or interesting geometry. As I said, it differs from one photograph to the next, but whatever it is, it’s the main thing that catches the eye.
So what’s left beyond the meat and potatoes? Everything else! And sometimes, everything else is quite a lot. If we continue with the food metaphor, then you’ve got things like sides, appetizers, desserts and condiments. These would be the supporting elements of the photograph. Like a chef, you have to plan them carefully—too many ingredients spoils the sauce. But much like you wouldn’t want to eat food completely devoid of seasonings and extras, in a photograph, a few well-chosen elements need to be there in order to tell a complete visual story.
And then, there are all the things that don’t need to be in a photograph. These would be all of the little distracting elements. You’ve probably noticed it in your own photography. I know I’ve certainly spotted it in mine. Sometimes, distracting things make their way into the middle of the frame—like a cat running across the vista at an inopportune moment—and we have to either do extensive post processing work to remove them, or retake the shot entirely.
But most often? These little distractions are the little things that creep in around the edges of the photograph. I’m talking about things like a stray cloud right on the edge of the frame in an otherwise cloudless sky, or the twigs and blades of grass that so often create a prickly look around the edges of an image.
Think of them like the bug in your salad—easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention. They don’t belong there, and they’re incredibly distracting to someone who just wants to dig into the meal. But we photographers, much like a chef rushing to serve a restaurant full of patrons, don’t always notice these things. We’re busy, we’re processing lots and lots of images, we’re excited by what we’ve created, and that leads to us sometimes missing what’s around the edges because we’re focused on making the heart of the image as amazing as possible.
So perhaps consider this a cautionary tale. Don’t get so wrapped up in preparing the meat and potatoes that you overlook the bug in the salad. It helps to pause at different points in the creation process and give the entire photograph a complete look, taking careful notice of every individual element that you can find. If they don’t need to be there? Crop them out, if you can, or get to work with the clone tool. Keep those edges clean and free of distractions to draw attention to the heart of the image.