Fifteen Remarks on Composition

April 22, 2015 ·

Alain Briot

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
Albert Einstein

Dusk, Mono Lake, California
Dusk, Mono Lake, California

Introduction

Having a solid knowledge of composition is one of the most important aspects of creating strong photographs.  In the context of my series of essays on personal vision and style, composition is one of the most important ways of developing both your personal vision and your personal style.

In landscape photography composition takes place in the field.  It is the first step we take towards the creation of the image, and comes before exposure and of course before processing and optimization.

Composition consists of making the decisions that will lead to how the elements in the image are organized. In a way composition is unforgiving because once the photograph is taken the composition cannot be changed.

The goal of this essay is to acknowledge the importance of composition by presenting fifteen remarks that cover what I consider to be the fifteeen most important aspects of fine art photographic composition.

1 – Composition is the strongest way of seeing

This is Edward Weston’s definition of composition
It is still my favorite definition of composition

2 – Composition is not just the placement of objects in the frame

Composition also involves using color, contrast and light
Composition includes post processing in the raw converter and in Photoshop

3 – The goal of composition is to express your vision and your emotional response to the scene

The goal of Fine Art Composition is not to create a documentary representation of the scene
Nor is it to create a photograph that is only technically perfect
The goal is to create an image that is superior, both expressively and technically

4 – What the camera captures is objective.  What the artist’s sees and feels are subjective.

Take stock of your emotional response to the scene in front of you
Record those emotions in writing or in audio
Use light, color, contrast, composition and cropping to reproduce these emotions visually
Work on this both in the field and in the studio

5 – Think first about light. 

A photograph is only as good as the light you use
The subject is less important than the light that illuminates this subject
The best subject in bad light does not make for a good photograph

6 – Use foreground-background relationships.

Find a great foreground and place it in front of a great background
Make sure your foreground is large enough to play an important role in the composition

7 – Contrast opposites elements

Human beings think and see in terms of opposites
Therefore this is something everyone can relate to
Opposite examples:

Static / moving
Young / old
Large / small
Organic / man made

Sunrise, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California
Sunrise, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California

8 – Composing a photograph is not about redoing what someone else has done before. 

If tempted to redo an image you have seen, just buy the postcard, the book or the poster
You cannot be someone else, therefore you cannot take the same photographs as someone else
You will waste time trying to do so.
Instead, start to create your own images right away

9 – Being inspired and redoing someone else’s work are two different things

You can certainly be inspired by the work of other photographers
We have all been inspired by the work of other artists and photographers
This is an inherent aspect of the artistic process

10 – No amount of technology can make up for a lack of inspiration

Cameras and other gears are technical
Inspiration is artistic
The two exist on different planes
Achieving a Personal style in Fine Art means working as an artist not just as a technician

11 – People, not cameras, compose photographs

Certainly, a camera is a necessity
However, your camera cannot compose a photograph anymore than your car can drive itself

12 – “Correct” is whatever works when the goal is to create fine art

There is no such thing as “the right thing” in art
“What is Art ?” is a question to which there are many answers
We therefore have to answer this question for ourselves
We are also bound to disagree with others because fine art is a polarized activity.

Cottonwoods and Blue Mesa, Southern Utah
Cottonwoods and Blue Mesa, Southern Utah

13 – Straight fine art prints are a myth

All fine art prints are a modification of the image recorded by the camera
The composition of the image you started in the field is continued in the studio
This is done through image optimization because colors, contrast, borders, image format, etc. are all part of composition

14 – The “right” color balance is the strongest way of seeing color

There is no such thing as the “right” color balance in Fine Art
This is because color is one of the ways you express your emotional response to the scene
For this reason, the “right” color balance for a specific image will differ from one photographer to the next

15 – The finest compositions are those you never saw until you created them

Recreating a composition you saw before is easy
Creating a brand new composition, one you have never seen before, is difficult
This is because doing so requires transforming the natural chaos into an organized image
It involves creating order out of chaos, as Elliott Porter said.

Alain Briot
Arizona
April 2015

Zabriskie-Sunrise-Collage-final-warp-3000

About Alain Briot

Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, raw conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. Alain is the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available from Alain’s website as well as from most bookstores.

You can find more information about Alain’s work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alain’s Free Monthly Newsletter on his website . You will receive over 40 essays in PDF format, including chapters from Alain’s books, when you subscribe.

You can also email your comments or questions to Alain

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Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, raw conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. Alain is the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available from Alain’s website as well as from most bookstores. You can find more information about Alain's work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alain’s Free Monthly Newsletter on his website. You will receive over 40 essays in PDF format, including chapters from Alain’s books, when you subscribe.

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