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Learning To See

A Few Compositional Dynamics

One of the greatest lessons I received in my early years learning photography was that of Compositions Dynamics.

The true art of photography doesn't lie in pointing and shooting. In lies in seeing not only the subject but the entire scope of the subject and the coexisting elements of the scene.

What I'm about to show you are some of my thought processes and the things I see when shooting. You will also get a glimpse into my post production and image selection. Yes luck does play it's part as some of you call it. I prefer to define it as God's touch.

Photographing any animal can be difficult. Sometimes your efforts pay off and other times you leave exasperated and defeated. In the end when all of the time spent and all of your determination pay off the final outcome can be breathtaking.

I recently took my first trip to the Davis Mountain Region of Texas. It was my first visit and the first of what I hope to be many.

Understanding your equipment, understanding exposition and understanding light and the direction of light is one of only a few lessons that need to be learned.

However the most important lesson in my book is Composition! You can know all of those other elements and nail them but what creates life to your image is composition through the use of viewer eye control.

As photographic artists the hope should be to create an image that reflects the intent of the creator. The moment you snap the shutter the creation has begun.

Finally, the and most importantly, it comes down loading your images and editing and selecting.

On any given day I might shoot thousands of shots. As a shoot develops I watch my subject intently. I observe and record the transitions of the scene. The direction of the light, the placement of subject elements (Note: Subject elements don't just include the animal or the bird but anything and everything included with them.)

The end result is to achieve perfection. An image that includes the subject.....the pose.....and the arrangement of elements that result in an image that is transformed from a snapshot into a work of art.

Rules of composition include some of the following:

Depth of Field to control where the viewer goes first.

Point of Focus to help speed the viewer to the main subject.

Framing which includes using sub-objects in the scene to help isolate and direct the viewer to the subject.

The use of the Diagonal Lines to create the feeling of motion.

Vertical Lines.

Horizontal Lines.

White Areas.

Dark Areas.

Subject Size to help support the main subject.

Geometric Shapes in photography.

The Rule of Thirds.

Believe it or not I look for some, if not all, of these Compositional Elements into every shoot I do.

Using the rules of thirds for proper subject placement is one of the most important lesson to learn in composition. Your main subjects(s) should be placed in one of the intersections areas when using this technique. In this image notice that are main subject is in the lower main third. Placing you main subject in the lower third will make the subject appear larger and closer.

Positioning the main subject in the upper third will make the subject appear smaller and further away even though in fact there is no difference in the physical distance on in the actual subject size. It's simply a psychological effect.

The next thing I consider is the other compositional elements which aid and strengthen the image.

The primary subject is obvious due to it's placement in the lower left third. It's the most proximal and it's placed on the left side of the frame. As children we are taught at an early age to read left to right. In composition we can take advantage of this by placing the subject to the left. This increases our visual response in the scene based on our predisposed early childhood lessons.

The second subject is the cactus plant in the upper middle third. Notea that through the use of a wider aperture this subject is less sharp. The sharper an image is the stronger it's affect in the scene. We want and need this object but not at the cost of pulling the viewer away from the primary subject.

The third and final subject is the bush in the middle right third. Again the focus on this last object is not carried and thus once again it does not draw us away from the primary. The intent here, through the use of these naturally occurring elements is to create viewer flow and image strength.

This final image visually connects the dots to show us the geometric shape of a triangle. The triangle is the strongest geometric pattern used in composition.

This image reflects the visual flow that our mind sees and yet some of us may not visually notice. We first go to the subject, then we go to the cactus, and finally we end at the bush.

Now that I've explained and demonstrated visually the elements in this image. Let's stop for a moment. Close your eyes and then quickly open them attempting to slow down what happens to you visually as you look at it. Everything that I've covered should click! You should now be able to see how the elements interact in this capture and how your mind moves through this shot.

The final point I want to discuss is the subject pose. Yes this subject is posed lol. It doesn't know it but I do. The chest and head which are the most important part of the subject are placed and positioned to point to the center of the frame.

Lastly the angle of the subjects head is key essential to the success of this image. It in fact introduces use visually to another compositional element.........the diagonal line!

To help you see the affect of the animals head angle to this compostion let's take a look at an image where the head angle isn't where I wanted it.

Can you see the affect or rather the non-affect. The angle of the subjects head in this image in fact resists and disrupts the composition by removing the diagonal line that takes us from the primary subject to the secondary subject.

Can you also notice the disruptive affect of the brush in the foreground?! Due to it's proximity and size it tries to draw us away from our main subject. This prevents the true affect that we seek in this image. Two ways of correcting this is in cropping and in art work.

My final image has been cropped to improve the visual flow and the foreground bush has been removed.

Many an image for me is left on the edit table. Once again my intent in every click of the shutter is to produce and image with strong COMPOSITIONAL DYNAMICS..

I hope that this lesson will be helpful to you.

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