Magazine article Communication World

When Less Is More: Obscuring Detail to Make Your Point

Magazine article Communication World

When Less Is More: Obscuring Detail to Make Your Point

Article excerpt

Editorial photographs work best when they interpret, rather than literally describe, their subjects. Interpretive pictures say something to viewers: they make a point, put forth an idea, convey a message. Often they say more by showing less, obscuring details to make the subject less literal and more abstract. This "less is more" approach actively brings the imaginations of viewers into play, creating an opportunity for more effective communication.

For example, this picture of a snowplow in action on the cover of the Iowa Department of Transportation's employee newsletter does not belabor the obvious. We can't see what this snow plow "looks like." An employee does not wave to us from the window. Stalled cars and drifting snow are not in the frame. The plow is barely visible -- the glare of its lights stabs through blurred streaks of white. Its angled blade is raised, ready to clear the road ahead. By showing less, this picture interprets the snowplow's task for us, representing its struggle against the forces of nature. This organization must keep Iowa's roads open. This picture sums up that goal.

Be careful, however, when deleting detail. Sometimes, deliberately showing less can backfire on us. Newsletter readers were asked to guess the identity of a "mystery reader" in our second example. They were given clues in the caption. The subject's face is digitally blurred out, creating a frighteningly surreal image. Seeing someone without a face is not a pleasant experience. I think many readers would prefer to turn the page quickly, rather than participate in this guessing game. Why not use a more natural way to hide this person's identity? Just picture him peering over the top of the paper at us. His humanity thus preserved, he would be daring us to guess his identity, creating interplay between the mystery man and the publication's readers. …

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