Composition —Know What to Eliminate

russell burden

Photography is an art form, yet as photographers, we’re at a great disadvantage. A painter can approach a scene and build in dramatic light, an impending storm, a howling wolf set upon a rocky precipice, or a bald eagle swooping from the water with trout held firmly in talons. A photographer on the other hand starts with a canvas that’s already painted and has to eliminate distractions within the scene. A photographer has to find serenity amongst chaos and confusion and has to wait for quintessential events to unfold and be lucky enough they do. So how does a photographer find pleasing compositions within all this complexity?

In any photo, the subject will be the first element to attract the viewer’s attention. Ideally, the supporting details will lead the viewer around the photo while at the same time, enhance the center of interest. If the subordinate details work in harmony with the main subject, the picture will show balance and be deemed successful. A poorly composed photo will confuse the viewer and lose his interest.

Good composition starts with choosing a good subject. The subject should inspire the photographer. If the subject isn’t intriguing, chances are the photo will reflect this. What it is that provoked you to raise the camera to your eye? Was it a strong color, the shape or texture, an interesting face or was it emotional? The final composition should be dictated by the answers to these questions.

Once a good subject is chosen, selectively eliminate all distractions that impede the viewer from focusing on the center of interest. Decide what should be photographed and emphasize that aspect while viewing the scene through the camera. Study the setting and decide if what you’ve seen with the naked eye is conveyed through the lens. As you continue to ask yourself questions about what attracted you to the subject, conclude whether or not you’ve gotten to the root of the attraction. Persevere in your quest to eliminate unnecessary elements by moving to the left, right, higher or lower until all is finely tuned. Deciding what to exclude is equally as important as knowing what to include.



    I was just starting to think I should sell my camera and switch to painting, but I love the distinction you make that photography starts with a painted canvas and serenity must be found amongst the chaos. I see how the blue sky in this image actually brings my attention to the earth, and then, the solitary starfish. Lovely composition, captures the sounds of the environment as well. I wouldn’t have thought to try the foreground rock in the center of the image, but this brings the eye to the fragile, small starfish.

    Thanks for your tips and insightful angle.

    I can’t ofc know all about this area where the picture was taken but to have tilted the camera 90 degrees would have made for a stronger composition filled with negative space (the sky) which would have instantly dragged any eyes downwards to the rock and the starfish, also maybe a square picture would be stronger.

    Now the picture looks just like a silly landscape where you aimed for the rock and let some space for the sky (negative space). A great example can bee seen here:

    That one is one of the best shots ever!(Not the author ofc)

    The picture has clouds and light, which is fantastic which makes it a better picture than one with suggested negative space. Tough negative space in your example would have made up for the lacking light/etc.

    Dont take it personally!

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