Composition Practice

I was recently reminded by an artistically inclined sibling of mine that I should continue to develop my understanding of composition and design.

It’s hard to find time for formal studies, but there is an activity that I have been doing for the last couple years with what I hope is positive impact.

A simple walk in familiar territory with the aim of finding aesthetically interesting compositional elements is something I try to get out to do every once in a while. Although there are probably different ways to do this, I tend to get the best results if I go out without too many preconceived ideas, but focus on noticing opportunities.

I try to keep a few guiding principles in mind, but to also explore new things. Right now, my priority thoughts when shooting include the following (in order):

  • Follow the light (this is meant as a reminder to be guided by existing light even though I may supplement it, and generally to place myself more or less in the path of the main light source to my subject since it is the reflected light that I capture)
  • Choose your backdrop (this has probably been the most important reprioritization that improved my compositional technique in the last few years)
  • Frame your subject and time the capture of expressions or gestures you are looking for (or the ones you get without expecting it, I think this is the step that legendary photographers like Avedon, Erwitt, and others really excel in)

This short list is a bit generic and by no means comprehensive, but there are also subheadings I keep in mind under them – such as setting my exposure as soon as I have the lighting and backdrop chosen, and then only compensating for changes due to the subject as needed. I usually isolate the main subject with either focus or light, and then try to get all the visual elements in just the right place in between steps 2 and 3. Of course, I repeat as often as necessary and sometimes restart the process when a shot gets away from me.

After listening to an interview with Jay Maisel and reading an article about him on the Faded & Blurred website, I took away an important bit of advice. Take responsibility for every element in your frame. The idea that you are responsible for even the tiniest part of your composition is powerful, and seems to distinguish really great photographers from the rest.

I hope you enjoy these selections from a recent stroll around my neighborhood. They were captured with the now venerable OM-D E-M5 and Leica/Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens. I processed the raws in camera to get JPEGS and then did minimal editing in iPhoto and Snapseed on my iPod Mini.

After a few weeks on the road without a computer, I am now finding that I don’t need Aperture or Photoshop to get reasonable looking image processing done, and maybe the Apple move to end stand-alone image software development is starting to seem more acceptable to me.

These shots don’t include the type of content I usually look for when I travel or setup for portraits, but if the aesthetics of form make sense then maybe they stand on their own as creative work. Well, at least that seems to be the main point of this exercise.


6 thoughts on “Composition Practice

  1. I really like these. More than the composition, I think it is because of the use of colour and texture – which works really well when you have images with relatively few components.

    • Mark, I appreciate the feedback. These were shot just as the sun was starting to set, and that may have helped pull out some cool contrasts and patterns – would have been less interesting in straight on light, I think.

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