Monday, February 22, 2010

Composition

Composition is the most important element to exceptional landscape photographs, after good focus, that is.  There are some tried and true guidelines that have been stated by far better photographers and artists than I. One of the best recommendations I can offer is look at as many good photographs as you can and decide for yourself what you like. Check out other photographer's websites, stock photography sites, museums, special exhibits and photography books. I was fortunate that, as part of my job when working for Scenic Hudson, a nonprofit that protects Hudson River land and vistas, I had to peruse a lot of stock photography as well as local photographer's sites to try and find great images for use by that organization. It allowed me to see and recognize how certain images were framed, how different elements led me into the image and how some images sparked an emotional response.

One of my favorite landscape photographers, Tom Doyle, recently stated, "Successful composition occurs when the maker arranges the elements in an esthetically pleasing manner."  But how can you rearrange the elements?  You can't – but you can change your perspective. Walk around. Study your palette. What colors are you working with? Are they complementary? What would make a good subject? What elements need to be eliminated from this vision? Work the image and the site by trying different perspectives (try getting down lower or climb up higher), different exposures, different framing, changing lenses or adding filters.

One fundamental tool is to arrange your elements using an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid and place your subject in the upper or lower quadrant of that grid. Make sure your horizon is level and it's best not to be going straight through the middle of the photograph. Got a great sky?  Put 2/3 of that sky into the image. Is it a gray day? Perhaps you don't need the sky or you need very little of it. Make sure you have a distinct background, middle ground and foreground and that there is one element in the photograph that draws your eye more than any other.
 
In this image, the sun is the subject. The gazebo and the log are the supporting elements to give strength to the photo.  

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