Monday, March 21, 2016

Don't Consult Composition Rules

Fence In January - Tehachapi, California
You won't find me drawing lines on this image to show why the composition works.
Have you ever seen photography composition tutorials with lines drawn all over photographs to show how the composition "works" in the different images? It might by "rule of thirds" lines or lines from the corners or triangles or curvy lines or anything else you can imagine (you can find examples of this by clicking here and here).

The people who do that mean well. They are trying to be helpful. But it's kind of ridiculous. It's to the point that you can take any photograph and justify the composition by drawing stupid lines all over it.

But composition is a lot more simple than that. Composition works because it works or it doesn't work because it doesn't work. It's art, not science. You cannot apply formulas.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
A didn't consult any composition rules prior to capturing this.
Legendary photographer Edward Weston put it this way, "To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk."

You could ask 10 different photographers to capture the same scene and you'll likely have 10 different compositions. Each one works because the composition fits the photographer's vision.

Likewise you could ask 10 novices to capture that same scene and you'll likely have 10 photographs where the composition doesn't work. Why? Because they lack vision, so they don't know where to put what within an image.
Lines & Shadows In Monochrome - Tehachapi, California
I'm pretty sure this image breaks a couple of composition rules.
Photography rules, including compositional rules, are designed to give beginners some direction. These rules are suggestions meant for amateurs and are not actual rules. It's a good way to get consistent results. But these rules seldom allow for great results. Often great photographs break the so-called rules. You've got to break the mold and think outside the box, so to speak.

If you think about these things too much while out photographing you'll screw up your photographs. Consider your vision. Creatively think about the scene. The most appropriate composition for whatever you are trying to nonverbally communicate through your photographs will come to you naturally. You'll see it. But if you are consulting "rules" first there's a good chance you'll miss it.

Don't consult composition rules before capturing images. Instead, rely on your vision of what the photograph should look like. You know in your mind already what composition will work.

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