DA's 10 Good Habits for Composition
Here's another surge of verbal diarrhea from the throne Room, but be forewarned. This one is going to be a bit heavy.
I was sitting in the throne room, as usual, with my Netbook on WiFi, when it occurred to me that this is the second year that I'm teaching photography at the Malaysian Open University. The good thing about teaching is that it structures your thoughts on the subjects that you teach. Your knowledge in Photography, and indeed in almost all skill pools, earned over several decades of learning from experience, leads you to do lots of things intuitively.
When you have to teach, somehow you've got to sit down, and gather your thoughts together in a structured kind of way. How else could you teach composition if you don't sit down in a quiet corner, and start listing down the composition concepts that you automatically apply when you shoot, but don't really think about? You do these things intuitively most of the time without really thinking. So part of the results of thinking about how to compose photos, led me to list down some 35 key concepts for composition that I know of.
Gosh that's a lot of stuff that we photographers do intuitively.
In this rather long and slightly complex rant, I'll share with you a few of those concepts, to become yet another chapter in my series of Good Habits for photography.
You can check out my :
1. DA's 10 good habits for Post Processing HERE,
2. DA10 Good Habits for a Digital Photographer HERE,
3. DA's 10 good Habits for Successful Travel Photography HERE,
4. DA's Collection of Past Photo Critiques HERE.
If you want the real McCoy,come and join one of the PMPE or PhotoMalaysia PhotoSafari Experiences that Maxby & I regularly conduct for the benefit of PhotoMalaysia members. After each PhotoSafari, we publish a coffee table book containing pictures that are shot by participants, which then becomes an impressive part of their portfolios. We also include the lessons behind some of the published pictures. These books are offered for sale online. Dep Qua' Vietnam or Beautiful Vietnam is the latest book. Check them out by clicking on the covers below.
So, what are the 10 good habits that you should develop for composition?
The first good habit for composition is to create an Inspirational Pictures Folder in your PC or Mac. Every time you see a picture that you like, simply drag and save it inside your Inspirational Pictures folder. I have a collection of a few hundred of pictures which I find inspiring. Whenever you need inspiration just flip through those inspirational pictures. They tend to get get logged into your memory bank, and usually, some of the techniques used by those photographers, will contribute in helping you to develop your own style. Everybody learns from somebody else so it's no shame to learn from people who shoot good pictures. Here's a screen capture of part of my Inspirational Pictures Folder:-
A second good habit to develop is to always think about shooting from an unusual angle. A lazy photographer shoots only from his own eye level, probably using a 30-300 mm zoom lens to compose pictures from where he stands. You should know that picture quality wise, primes are better than zooms, and if you must buy zooms, never ever buy any zoom lens that has a zoom factor of more than 3 times. Lenses with 10x zooms are usually of poor quality with Chromatic Aberration and resolution issues, because the laws of physics and economics guarantee than a consumer lens of more than 3x zoom factor, is usually not very good for serious work.
Primes also force you to move your a** to search for that elusive perfect perspective. If you want a distinctly different picture, try shooting from a low angle, for example. Here's Maxby shooting from a low angle at a fishing village in Vietnam. The picture he shot is also shown below.:-
Thirdly, try using a viewing frame. The world around us is a messy and chaotic place. The objective of good composition is to select and cut out a bit of this multi-dimensional chaotic reality, squeeze it into a two dimensional rectangular frame, and have it represent the reality of the world around us. It's difficult enough to think of depth, and scale, and juxtaposition, and lead-in lines, so I've found that a viewing frame can be quite helpful for me. Some people might feel a large viewing frame may be inconvenient and even embarrassing to carry and use. If that is the case try using a smaller, empty, old 35mm slide film frame as an aid to composition. I tell you, it can be really helpful. This is the same trick that professionals often use, except their viewing frame is only the frame made by the thumbs and forefingers of both hands.
Fourthly try to remember that in photography, sometimes less is more. Dont clutter your frame. Identify a main focal point and make sure no other elements within the frame can compete with your focal point for attention. All other elements that you include within the frame must be there for a reason, the main reason usually being to complement the main subject and not to compete with it, unless of course you are composing for juxtaposition. Think about simplifying your compositions by minimalism. Take a look at the work of photographers like PM member Soulfly whose minimalist pictures can be very inspiring.
Fifth, if you are at a loss as to what to put into your photos, and how to select subjects to shoot, try and think about Contrasts as a possible guiding theme.
Contrast can exist in many senses and at many levels in a photo. There is contrast of tones, contrast of colours, contrast of texture, contrast of sizes, contrast of placement, contrast of behavior, contrast of subject, etc.etc. You can try shooting pictures which highlight the contrast between light and dark, hard and soft, sky and earth, clean and dirty, young and old, good and bad, rich and poor.....in fact there are countless possibilities of pictures you can capture about the contrasts that you can see and feel everywhere in our real world.
One of the first exercises that students in most art schools are asked to do, is usually to find and list all the various possibilities of contrast around them. This is intended to open their minds to a whole new world of subjects to paint. This teaching method asks them to first consciously notice contrasts with all their senses, then to consider it, and finally to create an image that embodied it. As photographers, you can learn from these art students. Train yourself to see the contrasts around you. Then try to create an image that embodies the contrast that you see and feel in your heart.
Heavy stuff this.
Let me show you an example to clarify what I'm trying to say:-
The picture above, from our PMPE1 coffee table book, Amazing Siem Reap, shows a picture of a Granddad with his grandchild. It's an interesting picture of contrast between young and old. If you are an artist and a photographer, and you are sensitive to the concept of contrast, and you drill down deeper into your hearts, you can make an even more powerful picture of this contrast between young and old, birth and death, and baby and grandfather, by focusing tightly only on the hands, as in the picture below, by PM member Jay-Yudan. Jay-Yudan is an artist who has taken up photography only recently, but the mixture of a background in art and photography is very powerful indeed. And artists by their training, can usually see through a third eye. Jay-Yudan's rendition of contrast by shooting the same subject is quite different. You should try to develop a third eye for composition.
This leads me nicely into DA's sixth good habit to develop for composition. And that is to urge you to try and mix around more with artists. Go to art exhibitions and look at the works of artists. Learn from artists. Learn from their photos. Go shooting with PM member Tung-Tung for instance. Like Jay-Yudan, Tung Tung is also another accomplished artist, and if you've been privileged to see Tung Tung at work, like at our annual Crossing Bridges international get togethers, and at some PMPE outings which he also attends, you'll be amazed at the lengths he will go to, to get a unique shooting perspective. Several of Tung Tung's pictures are in my inspirational folder.
(Continued in next Post)