#003 A world on its own.
A friend and former colleague from my time in the animation industry, now working as an artist on Hollywood movies, with whom I frequently have long conversations about art, recently asked me what I believe makes a good composition and what do I aim for when composing an image.
Although I gave a concise reply, the full answer is more complex and deserves a deeper exploration of the topic which I'm about to tell here below.
My concise answer was: 'I believe that a good composition is when you create coherence within the framing. Through such coherence, you can effectively illustrate and communicate your message through the photo. So, what I try to create in a composition is a world on its own. A world that begins and ends within the border of the image. Nothing distracts the coherence that I want to establish within the framing and all that I incorporate inside it must be necessary to such coherence.'
Now let's analyse this further and as we do so let's keep the focus on expressive landscape photography. First let's identify our intentions: the Why.
Why are we stopping and making a photograph? What are we trying to communicate?
Is it something we saw just randomly passing by? Is it an iconic landmark half the world away? Or is it something that made us think about memory? about a friend? Or made us feel an unexpected emotion? So this is why we stopped, to try to visually illustrate this reason through a photo. First and foremost for ourselves as a way to create a visual landmark, the fruit of the collision between our life experience and creativity, and eventually for others to interpret it with their own sensibility and understanding, giving it their own meaning.
Once contemplated the Why, let's think about the innumerable ways to do so: the How
What would be the appropriate lighting to best illustrate your own message? Under which weather would be more suitable? And what mood do we want the spectator to feel? Knowing that colours may affect people's perception, is there any particular colour we can emphasise within the framing or wait for it to manifest itself in a particular season? Also, the absence of vibrant colours, such as in winter, for instance, may have the desired effect. Or maybe a particular climate is the missing ingredient for what we have in mind? Should we take advantage of a particular time of day or night?
Moving on to the When. I don't mean when to make the photo (which in my opinion is part of the 'How' as in 'How you want the final image to be') but rather when, in our journey as a photographer, do we plan to attempt to communicate our interpretation of a selected scene through the photograph and therefore when confident to make the final exposure. Some shots can be “sketch shots” or test shots if you like. Not meant to be final but meant to be like sketches on a notepad, with the intent to revisit the place when it has more ideal conditions for our objectives. Or if we may need to improve our skills, either in composition, creativity, expressive capabilities or photo editing, so we decide to study more and come back to the scene when we will be able to better interpret it.
Personally, I always feel like wanting and needing to further my studies in composition, creativity, and expressive abilities. With the sole goal to expand my visual vocabulary to create more articulate, insightful, and ultimately more meaningful framings.
Unfortunately, in my experience, is it super rare to see this desire and interest in others photographers. This is probably why the vast majority of the books I read (...and re-read with great pleasure...) are from painters and just a few are from photographers.
Knowing the final outcome of your photo will also determine the way you will go about making your image. Knowing the What. What will be the final result of your production?
Will it be for a client job? For a book publisher? For a magazine cover, double-spread or full-spread? For a poster? For a calendar? Or will it be for a personal project? Or maybe for a print? Personal projects or auto-assigned projects will give you the greatest freedom but you can get an enormous amount of freedom from client jobs, too. The more the clients trust your interpretation, execution, and final render of the project, the higher freedom you'll get. To facilitate this, try to seek or accept only jobs that fully match your specialization. If we talk about personal projects, in the case of this website my predilection outcome is fine prints, I visualize everything while pondering about photographing the scene in front of me, down to the print paper, size, and frame colour.
Coherence is the glue that holds all this together. Not only it will hold our composition together but also our vision throughout all the fore mentioned steps, from start to finish, until the final product.
The more coherent will be our choices, either for a single photo or for an entire collection of images spanning months or years of work, the higher will be the final result of our efforts, leading us to the purest and truest inner personal expression.
In essence, what makes a work of art beautiful and meaningful? for me is the coherence in the composition which creates a world apart, capable to give us new sensations and new understandings.
January 22nd, 2022.