The Story at the Edges

While visiting my family last year, I was looking through some old photo albums and found a picture of me as a young teenager holding up a pie I was about to put into the oven (I went through a bit of a baking phase). Needless to say, it made me laugh — but something else about the photo struck me. It’s clearly a snapshot and not technically perfect, but I think it’s a great photo (I’m guessing my Mom took it). It made me think about my own photography and, as I’ve started to get more into the craft and process, how I might have approached this same moment.

The author baking a pie
Some kids were into video games, I baked pies.

Perhaps a year ago I would have used a large aperture and also cropped in on the subject more, probably hiding the flour canister and captain’s chair, and obscuring the wallpaper pattern and the framed prints in the process. And I thought what a shame that would have been had my Mom taken the same approach! Those elements provide such richness and a direct sense of time and place; the flour canister and those prints transport me back to my parents’ kitchen circa 1986. Now I know this is not always the purpose of a photo, but for me, capturing moments like this is one of the most powerful aspects of photography. Of course the focal length and aperture were functions of the camera in question — it was certainly a cheap point-and-shoot — but I’m so glad this memory was captured as is.

When I began my photographic foray in earnest, I favoured a “normal” focal length (around 50mm)…shot wide open with plenty of bokeh (to a fault). These days, I’m tending to shoot with a wider angle lens stopped down a bit so more of the environment is finding its way into my compositions. Seeing this photo has made me think more about how all of the elements in a photo contribute to the story and how I needn’t crop every seemingly extraneous element out. This is not to say that I’m more careless about my framing but I’m less concerned about perfectly clean edges…after all, those edges help tell the story.