Exploring the tipping point

To figure out how something works, you need to take it to the point of failure.

I destroyed my first camera taking it apart to figure out how the shutter worked. Yes, I know, not a good example of looking for the tipping point. Some things probably aren’t worth knowing. Did you know that the shutter didn’t have a timing mechanism, the faster you pressed it the quicker the exposure. Cardboard box cameras.

In the visual arts playing with the tipping point will help you take better photographs. You need to go right to the edge, jump off, and see where and when things break.

A really good example, photographically, is exploring how blurry you can make a photograph while having it recognisable.

Consider one of the following issues, and take it and break it. Push it so far that it no longer works for you. You are exploring it to see if you can figure out that beautiful point of success and failure. This is an aesthetic subjective judgement. There is no correct answer. But there will be one for you.

Issues worth exploring with tipping points:

  • Minimalism. How small can you make the subject, and how large can you make the negative space? Where is the tipping point between the two areas?

  • Abstraction. How abstract can you make the subject and yet still maintain the subject?

  • Soft Focus. How soft can you make the subject and still maintain the subject? This may be similar to abstraction, it may not.

  • Edge Placement. How close can you get the subject to the edge of the photograph without causing tension or making it the edge. Explore with where you put the subject in your photograph and see what happens as you take it towards the edge.

So to make this work you need to take lots of photographs of the same subject, and play with them.

After taking them, give yourself some time for them to mellow. Perhaps a day or two. Now come back to them and look at them carefully… See if you can identify where the point between success and failure is.

Post three photographs from your experiments. One easily successful safe photograph, one right on the edge of the tipping point, and the final one showing where in your mind it clearly fails.

Lastly, see if you can figure out where else you can play with the tipping point? Tell us in the comments. If you have some spare time, explore your own tipping point for one of your own projects.

Lastly, I have added a questions page. If you have specific questions for me, please ask them there. Then when it shows up in my inbox, I will know to read and answer it. http://www.lensschool.com/lens-weekly-photography-exercises/questions

I am so pleased with the responses for each exercise. Keep up the great work

Pieman River. Someone in one of my presentations nailed this location on viewing this photograph. It was at that moment I realised that I hadn’t gone too far past the tipping point, though many people would think I have. This is why it is subjective. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2019

These multiple exposures, eight exposures using the high resolution mode in my Olympus EM-1, explore the tipping point around the ocean, water and sunsets. Each has a very different feel. For me there is one definite failure. Photographs copyright © Len Metcalf 2019

Myall Lakes sand dunes. How close can I go? Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2019