Thursday, August 16, 2012

Center of the Universe


I wrote previously that editing is one of the fundamental tools, maybe THE fundamental tool, of photography. The photographer starts with an external, previously created universe and then begins a process of decisions culminating in either inclusion or exclusion of various components of that reality. These decisions can be incredibly detailed and complex, but for the most part they tend to fall into three primary dimensions of choice.

Often the first dimension of decision that a photographer makes is one that I would call the point of perspective, or the point of view, or maybe the center of the photograph's universe. This has to do with the photographer's location, or more precisely, the location of the center of the camera's entrance pupil.

It has been said that "the eyes are the windows of the soul," and similarly, you can think of the entrance pupil of the camera as the window of the "soul of the photograph." If you look into the front of a camera's lens, you will see a dark hole right in the middle– the entrance pupil– the gate through which all light that ends up producing the photograph is channeled. And for the photographer, the camera's pupil becomes an extension of his own anatomical pupil. In this article, I will use the two interchangeably: the photographer's own pupil, and the entrance pupil of the camera.

When you open your eyes and look out into the universe, in a sense, you are at the geometric center of everything you perceive. For better or for worse, you ARE the center of your own perceptions. Your perception of the universe is limited by your own location. The way everything looks to you is based upon where you stand– your location in space. The visual relationship of various objects outside of you is a function not only of their geometric relationship to each other in space, but even more so of your geometric relationship to them.

Center of Perspective
at first location
(three poles aligned)
© Bill Brockmeier



Center of Perspective
farther to the right
© Bill Brockmeier
Center of Perspective
slightly to the right
© Bill Brockmeier
The phenomenon of parallax is the prime example of this principle. If three objects are aligned with each other, and you view them directly from the front, the one in front and the one in back appears neither to the right nor to the left of the one in between ("first location" in photo above). But if you move off to the right of them, the one in front now appears to be to the left of the middle one (tall white pole), and the rear (crossing sign) appears to the right.  And if you move even farther to the right, they appear separated even more. Although the three objects appear to be moving in relationship with one another, they are actually fixed in space– it is your own motion which has caused the apparent motion of the objects.

Center of Perspective
at street level
Center of Perspective
three floors above street level
How things appear is largely based upon where you stand– what your point of perspective is. And it is the same with a photograph. How things appear in the photograph is largely based upon where the camera (and most importantly, its entrance pupil) is located.


The apparent geometric relationships of the objects in a photograph are formed and then secured by the location that the photographer chooses for the camera. And this location not only affects where they seem to be in respect to each other, but their relative sizes as well. It should be obvious that the closer the camera is to an object the larger it appears, and vice versa.

So, where the photographer chooses to set up his camera is the first decision of editing that must be made. This will drive a stake in the universe at the center of perspective for the image. The infinitude of other possibilities for the arrangement of objects in the universe has been excluded, and this singular point in space now begins to define the potential image.

Two other dimensions of editing will be explored in following articles...

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