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Composition is one skill within photography that we can probably never master, but just continually develop. The composition we choose when taking a photograph, i.e. where we choose to place the boundaries of the frame, the perspective we choose to employ from the chosen focal length, how we choose to arrange objects within a scene etc, all influence the way a viewer interacts with the image, and so are all crucial to the success of any given image.
When a composition of an image is broken down to the most basic level, it can almost always be considered as the balance and interaction between different shapes, patterns and light within the scene. It is very easy to critically assess the photographs of others in this way within a couple of seconds of laying eyes on them, however, how often do we apply that objective critique to our own images?
Personally, there are times when I find it very difficult to ‘see’ my own images in this way as I can have a strong emotional attachment to the image that can cloud my judgement. What do I mean by emotional attachment? One of the big draws of photography for me is to be outside, amongst nature, seeing scenes unfold in front of me that no-one else is witnessing at that point in time. Therefore, after photographing an awe-inspiring sunrise across a landscape, it can be difficult for me to separate the resulting image from the experience of being there whilst taking the image – I can end up seeing my images through ‘rose tinted’ glasses and not judging them with the objectivity that others will.
One effective way to overcome this is to not process images immediately, but to leave them for a few days or weeks until the memory of that moment of taking the photographs isn’t quite so fresh in your mind. That way, you will see the image with fresh eyes, as others will.
Another method I find very useful is to rotate the image by 180°, i.e. turn it upside down, during post processing. When you do that, the image in front of you no longer resembles the landscape that you captured, but instead resembles the series of shapes and patterns the make up the composition of the landscape. When the image is upside down, it becomes very easy to be objective about how well balanced elements within the landscape are and to see the distribution of positive/negative space; therefore it becomes easier to decide where to crop an image or to see where you may need to dodge/burn to help direct the eye to the points of interest.
So, if you haven’t tried this before, give it a try the next time you’re processing images and I think you’ll be surprised how useful it can be, and not just with landscapes either. Do you have any other tips for ensuring you are evaluating the composition of your images objectively? If so, please share them in the comments.