Photo Composition

The distance between the casual photography that we engage in — pictures of kids, scenery, special occasions — and artistic photography is quite small.  With some attention to detail, the casual can be artistic.  That detail concerns scene composition, light quality, and the intrinsic interest of the subject. Composition is a factor overlooked or misunderstood by amateur photographers. 

Composition can provide depth, lead the eye naturally to a point of interest, and establish a point of view that avoids the boring and the commonplace. As an example, the photograph "Rock Harbor" has as center of interest a group of highly-colored floats and buoys on a gray wall. A dirt road fronts this wall, with a clump of brown grass, an orange barrel, and boat on saw-horses at the left, and a fence and abandoned metal equipment on the right. A friend suggested that a close-up picture of the buoys alone would have been better. However, as was my intention, the foreground objects lead the eye to that wall, and I think there is a certain pleasure in being drawn into the picture that might not be experienced with a more prosaic, flat, close-up presentation of the same wall.

LinnellConveying depth is particularly important in photographing scenery.  A useful technique to establish depth presents foreground objects, as in the "Rock Harbor" example, and again in "Linnell Landing," in which a closeup of a beached rowboat emphasizes the expanse of tidal flat and water that lies beyond.



Sheep PondThe same feeling of depth is created in the photo "Sheep Pond" by the screen of tree branches in the foreground; in fact, I shot some scenes at that same location without the foreground objects and ended up with totally uninteresting, featureless pictures of water and shoreline.



Photo pf Cuban ManI also enjoy photographing people, and here the rule of composition is “move in!” Evanescent qualities of character penetrate close-ups of people.  With zoom lenses in telephoto mode, one can take closeups without making the subject uncomfortable. Telephoto lenses also permit closeups of unaware subjects. Particular qualities of light make for very interesting pictures. 



One photographer notes that he prefers to shoot before ten o'clock in the morning and after four o'clock in the afternoon to take advantage of low-angle sunlight. Back-lighted leaves make great subjects as in “October Light." 


Sunsets are always wondeful photo ops; there are several examples in my collection.


Artists have developed a formal rule of composition, the Law of Thirds, specifying that the center (or centers) of interest in a painting should fall at the intersection of virtual horizontal and vertical lines trisecting the image area. What's true for paint artists is true for photgraphers.

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