Create Order From Chaos

(© Ian Plant) Sometimes nature can be a bit overwhelming, making it difficult to find coherent compositions that successfully convey your artisitc vision to your viewers. In order to excel at nature photography, one must learn how to use composition effectively to find order in an otherwise chaotic environment.

There are several strategies one can employ when seeking to make sense out of a busy scene. The first, simplification, I dealt with in a previous OP blog post. This involves carefully selecting compositions that focus on simple, graphic shapes and which exclude any possibly distracting elements. Although simplification is a useful strategy, sometimes it is not an option. Besides, learning to effectively use complexity is an important artistic skill.

What, then, is one to do when faced with an extremely chaotic environment such as the rain forest in the image below? I look for what I like to call "visual anchors," which are eye-catching elements that attract the eye and provide compositional structure. The best visual anchors are bold shapes and leading elements (such as leading lines or curves). Repeating shapes and patterns make great visual anchors as well. Basically, visual anchors hold the viewer's eye and distract from all the clutter. Used properly, they can be very effective when working with complex compositions.

For this image, I was working in about as chaotic an environment as you can find anywhere. The rain forests of Olympic National Park are a jumbled mess of moss-covered branches and ferns. I relied on the repetition of shapes and leading lines converging at important points of the image in an effort to sort things out. The ferns in the foreground provide a much needed visual anchor, immediately attracting the eye. The moss-covered branches converge in a space opposite the ferns, creating counterpoint. The interaction of these two elements provides compositional structure, creating order out of chaos.

Complex compositions are difficult, and require some extra thinking to execute properly. Just remember to look for visual anchors and bold shapes, and you'll be making order out of chaos in no time!

P.S. Google+ has recently become the newest big social media experience, and is proving to be very popular with photographs. You can follow me on Google+ to keep up with my new posts and images.

P.P.S. I've got some recent posts on my personal photoblog that you might be interested in: The Myth of the Myth of Talent, So You Want to be a Pro Nature Photographer?, and my A Week in the Life: Glacier Bay series. Enjoy!

To keep up with my blog entries on my personal photoblog and on this blog you can subscribe to my blog feed, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

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    Great post Ian. Chaos in nature is a wonderful subject and no place is more chaotic than the Olympic rain forests! It’s a great visual challenge to distill the subject down to it essence and can result in very powerful and satisfying images.

    I agree with Russ. Nice article. Finding order out of chaos is easier said that done though. That’s why you are the master, Ian.

    BTW, there is one place more chaotic than Olympic National Park. It is known as corporate America. 🙂

    Hi Karen, it can indeed be overwhelming. I spent at least three days photographing the rain forest before I started to figure out how to shoot it. All told I spent 6 or 7 days just shooting the rain forest! It is very difficult to come up with something coherent there, but worth the effort.

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