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Fechner's Follies (Composition)


    Composition is not a way to make a good picture out of a mediocre subject or one with poor lighting. It is really a method to achieve the optimum look given the geometrical and physical elements present in the scene you are photographing and the effect you are trying to achieve, i.e. the emotion you want to elicit from your audience. A well composed landscape or fine art piece draws in the viewer to the scene, allowing him to a bit of time to appreciate the scene but not confusing him to the point that he doesn't know what to make of the image. An action piece or vivid closeup can evoke the "Wow!" response, indicating the image got its message across immediately without any thought on the part of the viewer. If you have to think a lot about the quality of the composition of an image, your image is probably not having the impact it should.


    Composition here means everything involved in determining which subject to choose and how much of it to include in the frame. The following summarizes some personal opinions on composition.

Lighting is Everything     Always do research before you go to a location so you can anticipate the weather and the lighting you can expect. Make sure you shoot only when the light is optimal, because others certainly will.

The Wow Principle    Whenever we come up with an outstanding picture, the first comment about it is typically "Wow!". Of course, the best images are rare, but how rare should they be? When evaluating a shot, you should always ask yourself the following questions: Why am I taking this shot? Is this an image I would be comfortable marketing as an example of my work? Think less about the mechanics of composition and more about the artistic impact of your scene. Every shot should be a potential "wow".

Stock Photography: Harmful?     Many nature photographers make a living by selling stock. However,one should be careful about taking pictures just to have an image of a particular subject to sell to a stock agency, especially when just starting out in photography. As an artist you have to be selective and judge whether your image has enough "wow" factor to stand on its own as a work of art.

Uniqueness    One annoying practice of nature photographers is going to the very same places to photograph the very same things. Many of the National Parks in the west are favorite locations. Think about it, how many nature photography magazine covers have you seen that were taken in Yosemite, Yellowstone and the canyonlands of Utah and Arizona. Camera clubs typically sanction this type of behavior in their "contests". One question I always ask myself before taking a shot is: Have I seen this same shot before (in a publication or slide show)? If so, then I had better figure out a fresh angle on this subject. Uniqueness is integral to creativity. Rather than trying to reproduce a popular image, why not create a unique image yourself?

Discovering Hidden Beauty    If you go on field trips with your friends or a photo tour or workshop, you probably have encountered individuals that wander off the beaten path and discover great photo ops that no one else noticed or bothered to look for. I dub this phenomenon discovering hidden beauty. This is more than a case of one photographer with a "good eye", it is about photographers not paying attention to their surroundings and thus ignoring subjects that may be better and certainly more original than the subject they originally planned to photograph. I have been on numerous photo trips in which photographers pile out of a vehicle, take some shots of a landmark and then roar off, not noticing beautiful macro or scenic photo opportunities literally right behind them.

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