If Subject is the connection to the outside world and Light is the connection to the moment, then Composition is most certainly the connection to yourself. If Composition is the connection to yourself, you cannot be instructed in how to compose by someone else. Well then, you might wonder why there are so many people out there sharing instruction, engaging in conversations, and giving “tips” on Composition. The answer is that though we should not expect to receive compositions externally, we can expand our understanding of Composition and gain awareness of ourselves through discourse with others.
What beginners in photography (really in any endeavor) rarely do is think. Clearly that is a bit harsh and somewhat of an overstatement, but hopefully you can see the truth in it. The phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” helps us relate photography to writing. If you’ve ever tried to write a paper of at least a thousand words, then you know that it takes careful planning, attention to detail, understanding of audience, creativity, revision, and much more. A picture that lacks that same kind of care and thought is like a thousand word essay filled with run on sentences, loose trains of thought, backwards arguments, clutter, and repetition. In short, a photograph’s capability to portray information is only valuable if the necessary effort is invested in its creation.
Yes, you can go off the deep end and become way too analytical in your photography, thinking and thinking only to produce insipid results. Photography is an art form that is often at its best when practiced as a reaction, but we must have some intention of becoming fully engaged with our minds before engaging our shutter button fingers.
1) Try to determine if you have a goal for your photograph before you bother turning on your camera.
2) Mentally prioritize aspects of a scene in terms of importance to your photographic goal.
3) Think about what the camera will notice that you don’t, and make a careful check for problem areas.
4) Run through a checklist of “rules” with which you are familiar and decide “yes or no” for each.
5) Plan on trying a variety of compositions, if you’re not 100% certain that you can make the best choice in the field.
6) Don’t forget to have fun and relax as soon as you know you’re ready.
When you were first being taught about a camera, you were told that a photograph is a record of light (hence the name “photograph”). The only thing coming in through the lens and being recorded by the sensor is light, so it’s clear to see why people are convinced that light plays such an important role in pictures, maybe even the most important. You might even here some people say that they disregard other subjects altogether and focus only on light when they are making pictures. Those kinds of statements are difficult for me to accept at face value, but they speak to the importance of light in all situations.
The very thing that light has as an advantage can also be considered one of its downfalls, which is that the “right” light is usually fleeting. Light is often what makes a photograph unique and what makes it possible for numerous photographers to photograph the same subject with similar compositions while still getting a variety of pleasing results. The direction, color, and intensity of light are all constantly changing over the course of a day and from one day to the next. So what if the sun never comes out below the clouds on the horizon, the sky doesn’t catch fire, and a golden backlight doesn’t intensify all your subject’s detailed edges? If the light is the most important component of a photograph, then we could be waiting a long time before we have any use for a particular scene. Maybe we never will. You either accept that statement as unavoidable, or you find a way to work around it.
Many places in the world (not the least of which would be Juneau) have a prevailing type of light, and certain photographers have been extremely successful finding subjects to photograph in whatever kind of light that is. Some places it might be long days under cloudless blue skies; and other places it will be the even, soft, unidirectional light that is filtered through thick clouds. As a photographer, you might decide it’s your job to show the beauty of how your surroundings “really” are, not how they are once every ten years. If that’s the case, then light is forced to take a back seat to important subject matter and creative compositions. One thing is for sure, if you don’t have the light, you sure better have both other things in abundance.
My preference is to live in the middle ground where sometimes I need to have that special light that comes and goes in moments and other times I need to find ways to work creatively with the usual light. Where the light ranks in importance to you is for you to decide, and next time we’ll throw composition into the mix.
If you’re in my Landscape Photography class, I would like you to write another 100 work response to this blog entry, and by all means, put on some warm clothes and group up and go out and take some photos.