It was 4:00pm and it was that Time of Day. Every day by that time, my feet ache, my nerves are frayed, the kids are tired, I'm hungry, etc. etc. etc. But with only an hour until dinnertime, collapsing onto the couch is the last thing I have time to do. Plus, there's always the chance that if I sit down I'll never get up!
On this day, I shuffled into the kitchen, still a little foggy-headed and craving a nap after reading to my oldest from his favorite chapter book series. I dug the chicken out of the refrigerator and turned around to see an overflowing and cluttered countertop. Every part of our day had contributed to the overwhelming mess in front of me. In my experience, there are two kinds of the "extra-large" countertop messes-- there are the ones where everything in sight is a result of one giant project (meaning that all the odds and ends, while they may need to be sorted into their respective containers, are all basically going back to the same general space) and then there are the ones where every singular object, from the clipped off yogurt tube end to the green lego to a lone sock, have journeyed from all corners of the house for random reasons and thus each require a separate trip to be returned to their places of origin.
This, unfortunately, was the second kind of mess.
(Insert silent scream)
I used my forearms like a bulldozer and pushed the clutter away until it was teetering off of other side of the counter to make room to prep the chicken.
My eyes fell on the invented spelling of my 5 year old. Only 6 months ago he was requiring a lot of support to hear the sounds of letters and write them down. He had written all these words and ideas himself. There was a magazine we'd been reading together at breakfast, a new and treasured rocketship toy. Puzzle pieces, pomegranate seeds, lists, a lid, books, a balled up shirt, a few stickers, and other odds and ends.
Looking at the clutter in this more measured, clear-headed way, a different picture emerged. Good things are happening here, I thought to myself.
Suddenly I was motivated to make a photo. Yes, it was clutter. Yes, it irked me. But the countertop was a microcosm of our day, a day that will only exist in this particular way in this season of our lives. It was our little story, all smushed together in one place.
Here are a few tips for accomplishing a "cluttered" shot in a way that makes sense to the viewer:
- Try getting high and shooting straight down. (I actually stood on the counter for this shot. Shhhh!) This simplifies your frame to a clean background, in my case the off-white countertop and the array of objects.
- Choose your clutter wisely. Yes, it is true that on this day, the entire kitchen was a mess! But in order to make a photo that told one, clear story, I had to pick only part of the mess and focus on that. I picked the counter because I knew I could capture it all in one frame with a simple background.
- Use natural light because it will look, well.... the most natural. If you must, use artificial light. The thing you most want to avoid is using both. If you do that, all the objects in the frame will have both the blue cast from the window light and the orange cast from the bulbs.
So today I want to challenge you to tell your little story in a way that absolutely no one else can. In all it's messy, random uniqueness. Whether you do this by including the clutter in the frame with your subject, or by shooting just the clutter by itself as I did here, just go ahead and give it a try. Someday, when the spelling is no longer invented, the reading material less colorful, and the rocketship is in a forgotten corner, you'll be glad you did.