This is a post that I’ve had in me for almost the entire life of my website, which is nearing a year now, but I’ve never been able to put it into words before now.
I always try to bring you varied content on this website, so I will look at what I haven’t written about in a while, and write about that to make the site more interesting.
The problem is though, no matter how much I write about composition, people are just never as interested.
I can track how many people have been on my website, and where they’ve come from, where in the world they live, how long they stay on the site, how many pages they visit, and which are the most popular pages (this sounds a little creepy, but I can’t tell who you are, and this is common practice through Google software). Time after time, I’ve found that my articles on composition have been the least popular content, even though I regard it as some of the most important content to learn.
I’d like to change how you view composition.
It sort of feels like you’re in school when you’re learning about composition, because there’s a lot to learn, and a lot of theory to go with it. Along with this theory, you need a fair about of practice to start seeing results too.
People seem to be afraid of hard work, and to be honest, I’m not surprised. It’s just the world we live in these days. If we want something, then we will Google it, and find out the answer in a matter of moments. We’re so used to having this wealth of knowledge on demand that sitting down and studying something seems like so much more of a chore. Even when there is so much to be gained from studying something, it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. For most at least.
But what if you were different? What if you went the extra mile?
There’s a video that I would like to quote; it’s the last lecture of Randy Pausch. I hope you’ve seen it before, because it really opened my eyes (which is rare), but if not, then here is the video.
The quote I would like to reference, or at least paraphrase is:
“The brick walls aren’t there to stop you, they’re there to stop the people that don’t want it bad enough.”
Now I’m not here to get all deep and meaningful on you, but I would like to pose a question to you: What if you went the extra mile and put in the work and practice that other people seem to think is so hard (it’s not)? If they got stopped by the brick walls (studying composition), but you powered through, then what does that leave you? Well, it leaves you with a less crowded market of better photographers, which you can be a part of.
Studying composition is not hard, but it does take extra effort that most people don’t seem to be willing to put in, so you’re already at an advantage if you do decide to pursue it.
“There are no rules to composition”
Technically, no, you’re right, there are no rules to composition. There are no rules to any artform, but there are guides, and we call these guides, rules, just to make things easier for us. So when I say that you should follow the rules of composition, what I really mean is that you should study the rules so that you have them in your knowledge and use them to your advantage.
If you’ve just bought your camera, then it’s pretty standard practice (at least I hope it is) for people to start learning about exposure when they buy their first camera, and them move onto slightly more complicated aspects of their camera, such as metering modes and white balance. This is good and it’s all in my beginner’s guide to photography. If you want to make the most out of your camera, you need to do this. This is what I teach with my beginner’s guide to photography, and I would suggest you look at it if you haven’t already.
Now that’s out of the way, lets have a look at what people seem to be doing next…
Well, mostly, it would seem that the answer is not a lot. I’m usually pretty happy if people make it this far, because learning from the internet is hard enough as it is, and if I can get my reach to go just that far, then it’s happy days around here. I want to reach further though, because the content is here, and that’s why I do it, so that people will learn. If you take on the full package, and start learning composition, then you’ll really start to see the big changes.
You will cover the basics such as the rule of thirds, and visual weight, and move onto dynamic tension and juxtaposition. You will start to understand more than just how to take a photo, but how to think about your photos, and what to do before you take them. This will change where you stand, how you crop, how to balance the photo, and how you view the scene, and so on.
How will it change my photography?
Well, I made a pretty bold claim with the title of this post, saying that it will dramatically improve the quality of your photos, and I stand by that. I can’t say exactly what it will do to your photography, but here’s what it’s done for mine, and if this isn’t enough to convince you, then I dont know what is:
I think MUCH more about a photo before I take it.
I think MUCH faster about the potential photo.
I see with the eyes of a photographer, rather than those of a bystander.
I look for depth in a photo.
I see dynamic tension with ease, where as the viewer just feel it, which is exactly how it should be.
I frame my photos so that they stay interesting, and so that they’re 3D, rather than 2D.
I’ve stopped trying to make a boring scene interesting, and easily see potential in scenes that I would have missed before.
My progression from a bad photo to a good photo is a lot faster.
I’ve learned how to focus the attention of the viewer to where I want them to look.
I’ve started to fix my mistakes while I’m taking the photos, instead of getting back to the computer and seeing what I should have done.
I know how to balance a photo to evoke a certain feeling.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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