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My Favorite Quotes: Arnold Newman

Symmetry, a sense of order and balance in chaos

When I first started doing my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” workshops that I conduct around our planet, the year was 1983 and it was for the Maine Workshop; now called the Maine Media Workshops.

In those early years I had the great pleasure and honor to be teaching there (on several occasions) the same week as did Arnold Newman. As a result, we got to be friends and I was actually friendly with his wife Augusta as well.

He wasn’t a fan of rules and would often say so and if you knew Arnold, he often said what was on his mind…no matter what; even to the point of intimidating very young photographers.

One of the points he always talked about were rules, once saying, ” There are no rules nor regulations for perfect compositions”.

Truer words have never been spoken, and because of the latest conversation with yet another one of my fellow photographers seemingly lost in a sea of fake truths, I’m now writing this post.

I recently had a student enrolled in my online class with the BPSOP tell me and I quote, ”  I tend to put more space around my subjects and I must admit every other course I’ve done or book I have read, the instructors will emphasize not going close to the edge. I am a bit confused about this issue.”


What those so called experts, (and I say experts loosely),  are doing is to get you to walk down a one way path to mediocrity only to be able to rise up out of the mire to take “half-way decent” pictures. If those are the types of images you’ll be satisfied with until the day comes when they pry your cold dead fingers off the shutter release, then to each his own.

If you’re interested in taking photos that transcend conventional, uninspiring, and dare I say mainstream photographs, then I ask you to heed  the words of Arnold Newman and take the path less traveled; forget about rules as they are the shackles that bind creativity.

When arranging the elements to create your perfect composition, remember that balance is important enough to be considered one of the basic elements of visual design; the balance between positive and negative space

Positive space is that which has mass; which is usually your subject. Negative space is everything else, so think about it as well while trying to strive for balance between the two. A great way to check for balance is to turn your camera upside down and look at your photo that way. When you do that you’re looking at it with the left side of your brain, the analytical side so all you’ll see is shapes and relationships between positive and negative space.

The difference between a photo that is composed well can be the difference between a photo that has a sense of order or one that is off balanced and chaotic; that said, chaos can be a good thing if used correctly.

Color outside the lines, take some chances. Try things you’ve never done before. Try putting your subject closer to the middle of your frame, then closer to the edge of your frame, and have him about to leave it and/or look outside it. This will not only imply content outside the frame, making him think about it (which will keep him around longer) but it will also generate visual tension; then compare the two side by side on your monitor.

Above all, stop following and listening to those that think rules are important. Most of the time they don’t know anymore than you do. Writing a book is not necessarily a criteria for knowledge.  Knowledgeable people will tell you that a tomato is a fruit. You have to decide whether you’re going to put it in a fruit salad.

Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com, and check out my workshop schedule at the top of this blog. Come shoot with me some time. This coming January Along with William Yu, I’ll be taking a group to China to photograph the flooded rice terraces and also the tribal villages. Next February in conjunction with the Santa Fe Workshops, I’ll be returning to Cuba for the fourth time. My next springtime workshop will Berlin next May; an incredibly beautiful city.

Send me a photo and question to: AskjoeB@gmail.com, and I’ll create a video critique for you.


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