Composition - do I have the right idea?

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by Kathleen, Mar 27, 2007.

  1. Kathleen

    Kathleen TPF Noob!

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    I may be a little confused on the concept of composition. This is my understanding, please correct me if I'm wrong, and please explain.

    Looking for photo opportunities I try to scope out the whole scene before shooting. I believe that composition consists of creating a mood, sparking ones imagination, evoking inner emotions and in hopefully some cases telling a story for the viewer of the photo. Am I totally lost?

    I'm a beginner, this is one of my first shots with my Canon Rebel...
     
  2. Thor06

    Thor06 TPF Noob!

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    It looks pretty good but it could be better. Its also sorta hard to give advice on comp when you arent there to look around and such.

    In my own experience, the best way to check your composition is to just look at the screen or veiwfinder and try different angles. Play around a few minutes standing in different spots, getting different things in the picture, maybe get a couple from near ground level and conversely some from a higher perspective.

    Basically, to me compostition is a feel for what looks right to you and I think its sort of hard to learn. I dont know what others will say about it, but you can always be aware of what makes other shots (be it your own or others) look good or bad and learn from that. At any rate, keep taking pictures, analyzing them, and growing from them and most importantly have fun!
     
  3. Kathleen

    Kathleen TPF Noob!

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    So I'm wrong in what I thought composition was? I thought the photo was suppose to say something. Unless I misunderstood your comment, composition is taking into account such things as lighting, camera settings, location, etc.?
     
  4. gmarquez

    gmarquez TPF Noob!

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    Kathleen, I'm still starting out, so please take my comments with a grain of salt.

    To me, composition in photography is the study of pleasing placement and positioning of elements in the scene. Certain "placements" tend to be more pleasing to the human eye (brain, actually) than others, and when you are learning composition, you are learning what these pleasing patterns tend to be. For example, having a telephone pole cut your photo directly in half may be very distracting, but having a line of telephone poles angling off into the distance from near left to far right might give a sense of depth to the photo, and 'bring the viewer in'. There are whole tomes on composition, and the subject is shared with other visual arts as well.

    There are several ways to learn composition:

    1. Read articles or books on the subject.
    2. Look at photos that you intuitively like and study the placement of objects in them and how they relate to each other.
    3. Go out and shoot with knowledge gained from #1 and #2, to turn your book sense of composition into intuitive sense of composition.

    To get you started, take a look at this article:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composition_(visual_arts)


    I hope that helps!
     
  5. LaFoto

    LaFoto Just Corinna in real life Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Kathleen, your question about the idea of composition as something "objective" to any kind of image reminds me of a question I only recently asked in the Photographic Discussions, this_is_the_discussion which ensued. You might find it interesting. And also this_one which asks more or less your question ... in a way.

    Your example photo is composed nicely, for there is this road that snakes through the picture and takes us into it, although I feel there is a bit too much road there at the bottom, and that road is very bright, so I find it very, very dominating. What you mean to show us, I guess, is the beauty of the autumn wood to the left and right of the road. If that is your intention then I feel there is just too much road there.

    And in general, about composition as such, yes, you are right: a photos should be engaging. If it is plain boring, no one will look at it twice.
    But photos can be so different.
    You can have landscape photography such as yours here that serves as the basis for our discussion and as your example photo.
    You can do portraits. Action. Close-ups. Street photography, candid pics, nighttime photography, car photos, or airplanes or anything of the kind, bird or wildlife photography ... how is anyone to say: now this one rule will apply to all of these various kinds of photography and you will always be right? I think it is just not possible, less even because we all have our own tastes and - that was the outcome of my discussion (first link) on "objective critisism" - there is no such thing as being objective in people's viewing photos/canvasses/images in general.
     
  6. Kathleen

    Kathleen TPF Noob!

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    I think I am beginning to understand. Composition consists of a lot more than an image that invokes something. As you all have stated there are a number of factors that play a role in composition. What is a good photo versus a great photo.

    I am a published fiction writer, my imagination could be getting in my way. It is my believe that there are true, born with the gift writers and there are learned writers. Both can create great works of art, but there is something that the gifted writer has that can't be taught. I believe this also holds true with photography. In my photos and what I see of others I have been looking at photography from the creative side of my brain. Which I don't think is altogether wrong, but it does cause me to overlook that half telephone pole in the photo. But that is not to say that I don't see the distracting elements in my photos and those of others, because I do. It is the story that becomes prominent and therefore I look beyond the misplaced object. As an example, I saw a photo here in the forums of a little boy with a stick playing in a puddle. From the advice here the distracting elements were removed, and then it was properly cropped. It made for a wonderful photo. But the photographer said that they were disappointed that the boy hadn't looked up. For me this would have ruined the shot. I saw the story; with a child's sense of imagination, of awe. He was intrigued with the puddle. I saw only the boy, only the story. If he had looked up wouldn't that have been lost?

    I have a long way to go, a great deal to learn. In the process of learning all of the the matters related to taking the picture I only hope that I don't lose the ability to see the story.

    This is one one of my early shots. Sadly, (inexperience) it is over exposed. For me, it tells a story, but now thanks to the advice here I can see that I have to step back from what I feel. I have to learn to take in the whole picture, make certain that all distracting objects are out of the shot. Tighten the plot per-say. With your advice I can now see the distracting elements in this photo, i.e... the leaves. It is only after all of the factors that you have spoken of here that I'm ready to to take that shot.

    I know with the help here at the forums I have already taken a positive step. Thank you all so much for all of your help.
     
  7. LaFoto

    LaFoto Just Corinna in real life Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Well, you see, for your own work also very subjective elements come into play that no outsider can see, so sometimes what kind of "objectively" (we have determined there is no such thing as "objective critisism") looks like the better composition no longer says as much to the author of a photo and the author prefers a different version. Which is every author's right! (I refer to photographers as "authors" of their work, too).

    Therefore always let the photo primarily speak to yourself. When it is your work then YOU must like it. That is what counts. The thoughts, ideas, critisism of the others are always secondary. When you are unsure about a pic but cannot quite nail what it is that bugs you, ask for second, third, many opinions. And you might learn. I know that I have learned HEAPS in the three years and a bit that I have been here on TPF. More than in all the over 40 years before that!!! Believe me.

    But a photo is primarily YOUR work.

    And as to this one, which carries a lot of memories, probably emotions and all this for you ... I don't see so very many flaws, actually. If it were mine, the only leaves that I'd clone out (for sometimes you have to "proof-look" your photos because little errors do happen) are the ones in the very middle of the top. And the dynamic range of this scene was so that the top part HAD to blow out (i.e. become overexposed). So actually I don't see quite as many flaws in it as you might be doing now. The only thing that it cannot transport is your very personal connection with it. Of course.
     
  8. gmarquez

    gmarquez TPF Noob!

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    "there is something that the gifted writer has that can't be taught."

    True; however, any gifted artist needs the right tools. Think of "good composition" as guidelines, not rules. Not everyone agrees on what "good composition" is. However, there are certain patterns that remain pleasing to the human eye (brain) that are probably cross-cultural, and derive from the wiring of the human brain.

    For example, try taking several landscape shots. In one, put the horizon smack dab in the middle of your shot. In others, frame more of the foreground. In others, frame more sky and background. All else being equal , the shot with the horizon running right down the middle is the most likely to feel "wrong", "boring", or just "off". That is a composition issue.

    Take your rocks photo for another example. See how the rocks trail off from the foreground towards the background, kind of like emotionally drawing your eye into the picture? That is a "good" composition element. It gives the picture a sense of depth.

    Now you are correct, there is artistry involved above and beyond compostion - choice of subject matter, telling a story through the photo, etc. Good composition is just another "layer" to, as you said, make a good photo better.

    I know next to nothing about writing in the formal sense, but maybe I can tie picture taking to writing. As far as I know, there are compositional guidelines to writing fiction. You need a main character or characters, you need some sort of conflict, you need to set up the story, etc. Yes, you can have a story without these elements, and that story can have special meaning to you, but without setting, conflict, and focal character(s), others will most likely find your story confusing, boring, or just "off". And, even though the story means something special to you, even you may feel that the story seems "off", and "not quite right".

    I hope that makes sense...as I've said in other posts, I'm just a beginner at this as well, so please take my comments with a grain of salt.

    My whole point, I guess, is learn what "good composition" is so that you can use it as a tool, not a rulebook.
     
  9. Kathleen

    Kathleen TPF Noob!

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    Thank you LaFoto. As you say, "always let the photo primarily speak to yourself. When it is your work then YOU must like it." A rule that I have lived by in my writing. And now, as you have pointed out, ja rule that I will also apply to my photography.

    I also agree with your author title of a photographer. He/she is an artist in every right, drawing upon their artistic skill in every shot.

    As for my photo, I guess I was being to harsh on myself.

    I have to say that I also agree; it is places like this that allows us to grow. I'm looking forward to building friendships, gaining knowledge, understanding and hopefully assisting others here at the forum.
     
  10. dewey

    dewey TPF Noob!

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    Try not to think too much into "book concepts" without getting your hand dirty. Take a break and look at your photo - for that matter visualize the photo in your viewfinder.

    Anyway, when you look at your photo what do you see? If your eye has to dart around the photo and seek the point of the photo perhaps you missed on composition. If your eye is drawn to the parts of the photo you wish to emphasise I think you hit it on the mark.

    To me photo composition is like a roadmap of the photo for your eyes... if your eyes get lost in the photo you need a new map. ;)

    (Of course there are always exceptions to the rule - some photos "work" because the composition is so horrible and busy)
     
  11. Kathleen

    Kathleen TPF Noob!

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    Thank you for your comments as well. As you said, it is having the right tools. Therefore I correct my statement of "a rule..." and refer to it as the tools that I work with.Yes for the written word, you do need a main character or characters, some sort of conflict etc, all of this is true. But there are other methods of telling a story without the written word, which is what I'm referring to in photography.

    Taking all of the factors into account, I guess it all comes down to one last step. Trusting your gut feeling.


     
  12. Digital Matt

    Digital Matt alter ego: Analog Matt

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    Trusting your gut feeling is good. Learning what makes a compelling composition work, is also a good idea. This is why we have "rules", like thirds, and leading lines, and tangents, etc.... You can probably find a good book at the library to check out. These "rules" are merely explanations of what things work, and why. They are not to be followed 100% of the time, but knowing them makes breaking them work.
     

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