Composition and Art Form
I attended a weekend photography conference a couple of weeks ago. One of the speakers was a man named Seth Resnick, someone that I had never heard of before. I loved his presentation and it helped to continue my already started push in the direction of composition (this includes many things) as everything in a photo.
While I know about composition and shoot with it in mind, I was not fully aware of the power of photographing through the eyes of composition. I saw this clearly when I viewed some proof sheets during an exhibition of the prints of Werner Bischof, one of the first members of Magnum Photos. Every single proof sheet reflected compositionally correct photos, sheet after sheet, I could see the compositional elements in every little proof sheet photo. It was hammered into my head yet again during the Seth Resnick presentation.
Seth told a story about someone coming up and asking him what he was shooting and he said,”texture.” The person asked again and Seth said again, “texture.” It’s not the actual subject that we see as artists but instead the composition and art elements surrounding a subject that makes the image come together and work as a whole. This is called vision and this is what we should strive to shoot for, our vision of the scene with the subject in it but surrounded by whatever other elements make the scene work.
I gave some thought to what does make a scene work and I came up with five compositional categories: Spatial Relationships, Weather, Art Form, Symbolism, and Emotion. I’m still defining what this all means to me but I think the best photographs will mostly fall into one or the other (or maybe more than one) of these categories. I will continue to give this some thought and ponder how it might affect my ability to create fine art photos. Perhaps really great photographs are about the situation you find the image in more than about the image itself.
Some of the examples below include form, texture, weather, emotion, color (what other elements of composition and design do you see?). As I shot each photograph I thought of all the things named prior to taking the shot and each shot ended up being what I wanted it to be. If you are not currently shooting with this in mind you might consider giving it some thought: it could be a new way of seeing the potential of your images.
I had the opportunity to see the most amazing thing, short of heading out to Antarctica or Greenland perhaps, right here in the USA…beautiful rainbows riding in very turbulent waves. This happened at Goat Rock Beach on the Northern California coastline. Gives credence to the right time and right place saying! It was around noon and there we were at the beach, so we were all looking for something that might work in the bright afternoon sun. I started with simply shooting the giant waves, mixed with dark sand and grit due to the undertow in the area, and some of the photos were looking pretty good, so they were a “maybe”. Then I realized I was seeing rainbows on the waves and I got really excited, jumping around like a kid in a candy store. I shot over 1,000 waves in the sequence. When I shoot sequence shots I generally start right at the beginning and go until I’m certain the sequence is over; it’s easy to delete and I have more certainty of getting a decent shot.
I started shooting the rainbow waves with my Nikon D800 as I normally shoot my landscape shots with that camera. I realized quickly, however, that I would not get the sequence shots and that is what I wanted. I ran to the car and changed to my Nikon D500. I shot wave sequence after wave sequence and got many usable shots. The fast action and large buffer of the D500 was right on target in getting the shots in action.
I processed the shots using Lightroom, my normal go-to processing program and it did a fairly good job overall. The brush tool worked well on the rainbows and the neutral density filter tool worked to take down the highlights on the hillside. All-in-all, a good day of shooting on the beach.