The task of art today is to bring chaos into order.
Theodor Adorno

A quick Google search of the phrase “bring order to chaos” yields many, many results. Books, articles, self-help guides, 12-step programs and other similar resources offer the promise of order, organization and efficiency.

Nowhere is there a mention of embracing said chaos.

The Oxford Dictionary defines chaos as “complete disorder and confusion”.

Chaos theory, according to Wikipedia, is a “branch of mathematics focused on the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions.” HUH? Sounds to me like folks a lot smarter than me are focused on the impact of overall changes when small pieces of the puzzle change – butterfly effect anyone?

There’s also the movie version.

A key part of chaos theory however, is that even in chaos, there are underlying patterns and repetition – which is where photography comes in.

Several times in my relatively new photography journey, I have come face to face with a scene of utter chaos – be it a large mass of people or animals, endless colour, untold angles etc. Experiencing this chaos front and centre can be quite overwhelming. Looking through my lens, the narrowed view often doesn’t do justice to the magnitude or overall sense of what I see and feel.

Photographers I’ve had the privilege of reading or learning from, have suggested focusing on one part of the chaos – seek to isolate or capture one aspect or singular fascination as a way to narrow scope and increase focus – essentially use composition to bring order to the chaos.

But again I argue, it does nothing to capture the feeling of the scene before you.

Perhaps this visual will help explain my point:

Post Mar 6-1 (2 of 2)


Post Mar 6-1 (1 of 2)

I argue the solo Gentoo (ahem penguin) does nothing to share the sounds, smells, antics – the chaos – of a penguin rookery on the shores of the Falkland Islands.

I mentioned a sense of pattern, or repetition that is part of chaos theory. I stumbled across this amazing display of material on Queen Street West last fall.  Assessing the appeal of the photo – to me anyway – I come away with a sense of pattern in the chaos – a pattern that emerges following the initial assault of the colours.


Patterns can be brought out through composition.  Many photographers will tell you that you need to know the rules of composition  – so you can then break them.  Fair enough. Composition allows you narrow in on your subject matter, understand how someone’s eyes will move through your image, what will attract their eyes and how to balance your scene.

But sometimes, you just need to throw out the rules and appeal to your own sense of whether the image “works” or not. Embrace the chaos. Frame it as you so choose.  If your image isn’t for you first and foremost, who is it for?

How do you approach a chaotic scene?

Life Lessons

  1. A zoom lens is your best friend for narrowing in on a singular aspect of a chaotic scene.
  2. A sense of chaos is totally personal – my sense of chaos is not the same as yours.
  3. Regardless of the incredible scene before you, watch where you step.

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