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Tension relief: Pay attention to the edges of your image

Paying attention to the corners and edges of a photograph can relieve distracting visual tension. Visual tension can be good or bad. The tension I’m referring to is the nagging and irresistible pull on your eyeball away from the subject to undesirable and distracting features. Not invariably, but often, these reside in the corners and edges. This response is hardwired and not learned, so we all experience it.

Here are some on-location tricks I use to mitigate visual tension:

  1. I use a tripod. It slows me down and allows me to really look, from corner to corner.
  2. I use a Hoodman loupe to carefully inspect the scene on the camera’s LCD screen.
  3. If I see a distraction, I consider moving the object (for instance, trash or a dead branch) or moving my tripod.
  4. If using a zoom lens, I consider framing it differently.

At times, I either didn’t notice the distraction or couldn’t avoid it. This is where I implement plan B in post-processing:

  1. I consider deleting the image.
  2. I might crop the image to eliminate the distraction.
  3. I try to mitigate it with either a bright or a dark vignette.
  4. Alternatively, I may try a healing or cloning brush in Lightroom or use the spot healing content aware tool in Photoshop to eliminate it.
  5. I remind myself that the world and my photographs can’t and shouldn’t be perfect and consider which distractions stay or go.
  6. These actions are done nondestructively and I always have the original RAW file if I’ve gone too far.
  7. Finally, I revisit the original and processed images at a later time to make sure it was the photograph and not me that was the problem.
Golden Pavilion — Kinkaku-ji, in Kyoto

Not everything in the periphery is detrimental and some features can be compositional assets. The image below includes branches from unseen trees. They help frame the image and put the viewer into the scene. These branches are not dominant and do not draw unwanted attention. The leaves towards the bottom right are only partially seen and have no compositional or contextual purpose and distract.

I could have cropped the leaves out but chose instead to use the Content-Aware Spot Healing Brush tool in Photoshop. Total time invested is less than 15 seconds.

To summarize, check your edges carefully.  In general, peripheral elements should be either fully in (included with intent) or possibly, completely eliminated, if they pull the eye away from the main subject or action. Knowing a few Lightroom or Photoshop techniques come in handy to eliminate unwanted distractions when they are unavoidable.

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