Finding the Essence

Finding the Essence

I frequently lecture about the importance of finding the “essence” in one’s images. By essence I mean the conscious effort to reduce the image to its defining characteristics, its purest storyline minus unnecessary distractions. It is a concept that invariably leads to a more focused image, to one that is more dramatic and appealing to the viewer.

One of the participants in my recent Acadia National Park (Maine) workshop for Nikonians sent me a good working example of the concept. We were shooting at the picturesque fishing village of Bass Harbor, when David Soderlund came across this scene. I’ll let him tell it in his own words:

“At the end of our time in Bass Harbor I grabbed a shot of the pier.  When I looked at it critically more recently, I realized that it was really the two boats, plus the lines of the pier, that caught my eye, but the rest of the image was pretty boring.”

Not satisfied with the image once he saw it on his screen, Dave took some drastic action.

“I cropped the image severely in Aperture 3 (throwing away a lot of pixels) to emphasize the “essence” of the image — for me, it was the two boats — and I selectively desaturated yellow hues slightly in Aperture to tone down the yellow lobster traps on the dock.  I applied filters in NIK Color Efex Pro 4 to increase contrast and enhance the surface detail in the boats.  The boats are clearly working boats rather than pleasure craft, and I wanted to emphasize that.

“I also used NIK Viveza 2 to selectively increase saturation of the blue tones in the foreground boat and desaturate the distracting bright red and pink of the cluster of buoys on the dock in the background.  Finally, I used NIK Sharpener Pro 3 to apply default sharpening for computer display before exporting the image.  I like the final result, but I wish I had seen this composition when I was shooting it!”


No matter. The beauty of digital is that you can come home from a shoot and then work your images to suit your unique creative vision. I like what Dave has done here. He has reduced the image to its pure storyline- working fishing boats at a working fishing pier. By removing the distractions he found the essence of the image. Yes, he would have had more pixels to work with had he not had to crop so severely. But his post-processing hand was deftly applied, too. Now he has a print-worthy image to frame. Congrats, Dave!

In my next blog I’ll take a look at another approach to essence photography, namely minimalism, using a classic example from another of my workshop participants. Stay tuned!