Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Composition Series: Introduction

I've been talking so much about composition, and how it's more important than technicalities such as noise or sharpness, that I decided I should start a short (?) series of articles dealing with this subject. Composition is not only a core aspect of photography, but in many ways it's the only one that matters, when it comes to photography as art.

Can a noisy photo be a masterpiece? Definitely. Can a blurry photo be seen on National Geographic? You bet. But even the sharpest, crispest, and otherwise technically flawless image cannot be considered successful if it lacks emotion, expression, and mood. And these are all things that come from composition. In some ways, actually, the technical aspects of a photo (sharpness, brightness, saturation) are part of the composition dynamics: these adjustments have to serve the composition, not the other way around.

This "works". Why? Because the elements of the scene (the clouds; the grass; the wooden fence; the distant structure) all connect together in a way that creates emotions, mood, thoughts, atmosphere

So, what do we refer to when we talk about "composition" in photography? Well, obviously enough, as a first working definition we can talk about what can be seen in the frame of the image*. But this is a tautology that doesn't take us far. We need to see how the elements present are arranged and are combined in order to create something that, essentially, isn't there: emotions and symbolism spawning out of these arrangements and combinations.

* As we will see in future articles, composition is also about two other things that most photographers ignore: a) what isn't there (while often expected to be); and b) what kind of relation is there between in-frame elements and off-frame elements

You might have heard things like "the rule of thirds", or generic advice like "don't place the horizon in the middle of a landscape". Those "rules" do exist, but nobody is expected to follow them; only be aware of them, and, most importantly, be aware of their consequences. In other words, the ultimate goal of a photographer is not to follow rules, guidelines, or procedural steps, but to understand (often without having to see the photo itself but merely the general scene) what kind of emotions the arrangement and combinations of elements within a frame invoke.

As a final word in this introductory text, I would simply remind you once more that photography, as any art form, is a two-way street. Involving the creation (or perhaps discovery?) of meaning, it cannot be void of either audience perception or authorial intention. In other words, the meaning (emotions, thoughts, mood) of a photograph, might carry plenty of what the photographer wanted to convey (especially if s/he is a skilful artist), but almost as much depends on what the viewer sees.

To be continued...

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