The thorny topic of photographic composition
I’m guessing that most people reading these webpages are fans of the outdoors, and like to get out and about, walking, hiking, climbing and the like. I’ll also guess that many of you like to carry with you a camera of some sorts to record your adventures, be it a small pocketable compact, or a bigger SLR, either film or digital, or even a camera phone. So, how many times have you got back from your trip, looked over your images on a computer screen or as prints and felt a huge sense of disappointment? The grand vista you remembered now seems forlorn and completely lacking in any sort of scale or impact. Sound familiar? It does to me for sure. What you have just encountered is the difference between ‘seeing’ a landscape, and ‘photographically seeing’ a landscape. Alas they are often two very different things. Or, to put it another way, you have met the thorny topic of composition.
Whole books have been written on the topic of composition, but here I’ll try to give you just one small tip to help improve the composition of your photographs. My analogy is to think of the image you want to take as a book. If you buy a book to read you’d expect it to have at least three things, a beginning, a middle section, and an ending. So, try the same thing when you want to take a photo, and translate the beginning into the foreground, the middle into the intermediate distance, and the end into the far distance of your chosen landscape. More often than not, this will allow your eye to be guided through your photo, from front to back, hopefully improving its impact.
I’ve chosen two images to try to demonstrate what I’ve been describing. In each case the foreground is very dominant and grabs your attention straight away. One image is from Yosemite Valley in California with the striking foreground of a dead tree leading the eye into the valley and then to the famous Half Dome in the distance. The other image is of a very special rock opposite the harbour in Crail, Fife which shows a fossilised tree trunk, one of several gradually being eroded by the sea. For this image, the harbour and houses form the ‘end’ of the image because the sky is low on relative impact.
One more hint to help you with this compositional tip. Try to not automatically use the widest setting on your zoom lens if you are using one. Try a mid-zoom setting instead, so that your chosen foreground has even more impact. Alternatively, use the original zoom lens – your legs! Step closer to your subject if you can until the foreground becomes more dominant.
Simon Powis is an academic at the University of St Andrews and a keen landscape photographer, regularly using Rohan gear to keep warm and dry. Here he gives some tips for making your landscape photos have more impact.
You can seen more of his work at (www.simonpowis.co.uk), well worth a visit.