A lot of opinion currently in print, both physical and virtual, has been presented over the past few years on the topic of composition in photography. Ignoring the issues of quality or quantity of content inherent in most of the offerings, one thing had become obvious to me. The topic is not being taken seriously. Even by some, who in light of their educational credentials and background in art, should have a more in-depth understanding of the topic than they present in their writings. Of the many webpages on the topic, most will lightly mention the rule of thirds and move on. If this is all that the person knows of composition, they should not be offering their knowledge as a model for others. The rule of thirds is nothing more than a simplistic model for when all else fails. In reality it is merely a simplistic generalization of the Golden Mean, first attributed to Pythagoras by the Ancient Greeks. It only deals with “Cartesian co-ordinate” placement of objects within the frame and ignores any influence of Center, Armature, Perception, the Elements of Art and Principles of Design. All of these qualities heavily inform and are the underpinnings of composition. At the very least anyone wishing to consider themselves an artist must be aware of them. To ignore the knowledge contained within these elements is to doom yourself to a long drawn out struggle with your medium.
Composition is a complex subject. However, that should not scare you. Composition is easily understood and fun to learn. Composition does not have to be memorized, the best the student can do is simply become familiar with its tenets. Simple exposure to the topics accompanied by an occasional review is enough for anyone serious about learning good composition. Composition is a tool, used at will to improve image creation. Composition is not a set of rules that one is bound to follow when creating images.
Over time, most artists develop an inherent sense of composition. In the case of photography, the camera is usually raised and settled within 2 or 3 seconds well balanced on the scene. It does not take a lot of hunting, with the camera at the eye, to settle on a pleasant placement. It is when things don’t seem to be working out or when camera placement is not intuitive that the tools need to be brought to mind, finding ways to improve the strength of the presentation. Even then, it is not a matter of running through the entire set of element to come up with a solution. It is more a matter of looking for the visual center(s) of the scene and finding a balance within the frame, allowing these tools to inform the eye.
Next time: Ingredients
Lens, Light and Composition is presented in a structured form with occasional asides. It is not a semi-random presentation of information. To get the greatest benefit from this blog it is advised that you start at the beginning of the table of contents, and work your way down from there. Thanks for reading.