Thursday, August 27, 2009
Can composition be taught?
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the most technically-minded of photographers. Sure I know about apertures and shutter speeds, how to mix flash with ambient and do what I need to do in post processing. But I don't use a big studio lighting kit, tilt/shift lenses for architecture or do big production advertising shoots with catering, tethered shooting and make-up artists. It's just not my thing.
But I do consider one of my strengths to be composition. Whether this is a misguided opinion or not you guys will have to be the judge on that one, but at least allow me the fantasy to think I'm OK at it. :)
Anyway I was thinking about doing some blogs on composition the other day and sat down to nut out some ideas when I came to the conclusion that it's actually a really hard thing to teach.
The technical side of it is easy - slow shutter speed equals blurry moving subject, small aperture equals big depth of field - blah, blah, blah. But when it comes to the topic of where to put the elements within a frame that's a whole different ball game. And yet composition is one of the biggest things that can make or break a picture.
We're constantly bombarded by various compositional rules such as the rule of thirds, don't have the horizon in the middle, have people looking into the frame etc. But then we're told that we can also break them. So they're not really rules but guidelines, which you don't have to follow if you don't want to. If you stick to them you may or may not get a pleasing shot, and if you break them you may or may not get a pleasing shot. Confused yet?
So what's a poor photographer to do? I think it's one of those things that has to be felt. It's an intuition tied in to the emotion you feel looking at a great picture. The trick is to find the compositions that speak to you. And the way to do that is to look at and take as many pictures as you can. The ability to feel what to put in and what to leave out is a very personal one and no two photographers will line up the universe in the same way.
Having said that I'll try and post some images and talk a little bit about the thought process behind the composition. Yes I use the rule of thirds quite a bit, but I tend to put the subject even farther to the edges of the frame sometimes. One thing I have learnt over the years is that your composition has to be used to emphasise the subject of the image. If your viewer doesn't instantly know what it's a photo of then you're composition's no good. As the famous photojournalist Robert Capa once said, "If you're not happy with your pictures get closer". Or something along those lines.
What do you all think? Can composition be taught? Can it be broken down into a few simple rules or does it have to come from the heart and intuition?