Skip to main content

The art of seeing #6: What you leave out is as important as what you include

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)
About Benedict Brain

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)

Benedict Brain is a UK based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine.

This month I’m sharing an image from the Costa Rican port town of Golfito, on the Pacific coast. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds: the weather was simply atrocious on the one and only day I was there. I’m rarely deterred by rubbish weather, though – in fact, it’s often conducive to the creative process.

I find the print very satisfying to look at. As an image it does little to reflect the ‘sense of place’ I was experiencing that day, but I’m not sure it matters all that much in this case. What’s not in the frame is interesting to talk about too. Despite the exotic aesthetic, it was taken from the side of a fairly unattractive road, on the outskirts of the town; immediately to the left and the right of the frame were ugly industrial sheds and general clutter. I couldn’t even make a horizontal image without including them, which just goes to show that what you leave out of the frame is just as important as what you put in it.

I enjoy the arrangement of palm trees; their trunks sit harmoniously in the composition. The distant horizon of the bay usefully adds layered depth. And the little motor boat, which just happened to be traversing the frame at exactly the right time, is perfectly positioned. Minimalist qualities in a composition are a recurring theme in my work: I often find that I strip back the elements and play with shapes, lines, tones and textures.

Converting to black and white accentuates these qualities. I added a slightly warm tint, which helps it allude to classic travel photographs. I love these old images – in particular, the incredible hand-coloured images by Burton Holmes (1870–1958). BB

• Other articles in the Art of Seeing series

Read more:

Own a Susan Meiselas photo for $100
The 50 best photographers ever
100 best photography quotes from famous photographers
The best coffee-table books on photography