Archive for the ‘composition’ Category

Nick vs. Composition

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

Composition is something that I sometimes find quite difficult. When composing an image, there are two things that you need to (or at least ought to) achieve:

* Fill the frame with what is important. Exclude what is not.
* Find the framing which places the elements in the frame in the correct relationship to one another.

Everything about this process is subjective. How do we decide what is important? How do we decide how objects and shapes and colors are supposed to be related to one another? These are not things one can prescribe. But unless attention (whether this attention takes the form of conscious deliberation or something else) is paid to these issues, the resulting image is likely to be poorly composed. Which does not mean that it fails some test or will be butchered on critique forums; it means that the viewer will not be able to get past unhappy accidents of composition to whatever it is that the photographer was trying to share by means of the photograph.

My habitual approach to composition is to find something that seizes my attention and get close enough to it to fill the frame with it. With birds, this is usually straightforward. You find a bird, you get as close to it as you can by using the longest lens and by using your feet as much as you dare. And it’s not hard to use the same approach with macro photography or with non-macro close-up work. Heck, it even works for portraits, up to a point. No good for landscapes, but I find landscape photography to be utterly abominably boring, so that’s no big deal.

But you know where it doesn’t work? With my Olympus XA. The XA doesn’t have very good close focusing capabilities, and it’s semi-wide angle 35mm lens is not good for cherry-picking elements from a scene. And the images I’ve gotten from it so far have not proven amenable to deep cropping. This has forced me to start looking at a different scale than I usually look — forced me to take a slightly wider view, as it were. In particular, I find myself having to look for multiple medium-large objects covering an area of 10-20 feet and at least 5-10 feet away.

I find this to be surprisingly difficult. But after running quite a few rolls of film through the XA, I believe I’m starting to get somewhere with it.

Two Chair Backs

In this example, the element that caught my eye was the shadow of the two adjacent chair backs sitting at the bottom of the pool of light projected through the window of this restaurant. I couldn’t capture just that shape with the XA, and even if I could, there would be no real up-shot to getting closer. There was no deal to be had; just light and shadow, only the shape of it. So I worked to carefully include the mundane elements at the border. The legs of the chairs provided context, located the image. The additional illuminated areas pointed beyond the frame, implied repetition.

Portra 400-001-27

Here, it was just a sort of race to contain all the repeating shapes — lines, intersections, angles, squiggles. This is from a construction project near work that I’ve been trying to make good images of for a while and mostly failing — it’s almost done now, so I’m not going to get anything more out of it. It’s tricky, because the immediate vicinity is filled with very boring architecture, boring lawn, etc. (And not even boring in an interesting way.) This was the vantage that allowed me to include as much of these proliferating shapes as possible with as little of the devstatingly uninteresting context as possible.

I’ve also started trying to import some of this awareness back into my SLR shooting, so that just because I can discard the majority of a scene in favor of one compelling element, I don’t automatically do so.

The Point Stays Free

I shot this with my D40 from many, many different angles, each of which proved totally unsatisfactory. I had just about given up, and was actually in the process of moving out of the way to let a driver pass, when stumbled into this angle — one which contained the lines in the concrete, the curving cracks, and the fixture in the lower left — and which contained them in a configuration and proportion which retained something dynamic about it.

Pepper and Salt (Portra 800:004:28)

This is an example from my Nikkormat. I had my 55mm f/3.5 Micro, and I actually succumbed just moments after this to the impulse to use it to get a full-on (and fully tedious) close-up of the pepper shaker’s top. But before I did, I paused to get this shot, with the 35mm f/2 O, which includes the salt shaker companion in the background and the lovely, blank green expanse of the table.