There were several times last year that I visited Laguna Beach with my camera — once with Brandon, once with Erin, and once with my other photographer friend, Audrey. I only had a handful of images come out from each trip (except for my visit with Erin when we went to La Tour — but I will be posting those separately.) So I just decided to share all of the ones I liked from the three trips together. They are all facets of Treasure Island Beach — the fence, the flowers, the plants… shapes and shadows and colors. Sometimes I go out with my camera, seeking dramatic, sweeping landscapes… and sometimes I just point my camera at whatever catches my eye and see what happens. These are examples of the latter.
Composition is one of the more difficult aspects of art and photography to grasp — and it’s also one of the most fluid. There are a lot of “rules” of composition that we are urged to follow and which can help to improve our work. There is a lot of truth to them, especially the most basic rule of thirds. But there are a dozen instances where rules are broken and simply work. It all depends on the subject and how it is photographed. When you paint a painting, you have it a little easier. You can change whatever you see to make it work compositionally. When you take a photograph, it is a little more difficult. Sure, you can photoshop things (to a degree) in order to improve them, but ultimately what you see is what you have to work with. It gets trickier.
This is why when I take photos, I look for interesting compositions and I take more than one image of a subject. Depending on how much I want to capture it, I will usually take at least three images, but sometimes up to ten images or even more if I want to make sure I get it right. I will move up, down, around, contort my body sometimes into weird positions to get just the right layout. And even when I think I’ve found it, I still will take more. The reason is because it isn’t until you sit down later and study them on a computer screen that you can really start evaluating which image is the strongest compositionally. Little details that you didn’t notice when you were shooting become more evident and you see the weaknesses more clearly. The thing is, I don’t worry about those weaknesses so much. Even the most revered photos have “flaws” — just like people do. The best thing to do is to take note of them, fix them if you can, or just let them go and go take more photos.
I think some of the best advice I have ever received about composition came from my mom, who is a fine artist and master instructor. If anyone understands composition, it’s her, and her advice isn’t a hard, fast rule. It’s simply to pay attention to where your eyes go when you look at an image. Where do your eyes go first? (That is your focal point — whether you intended it to be or not.) How do your eyes move about the image when taking it in? Do they wander off to the left or right of the photo where your attention wanders (improvement is needed) or does another element of the photo draw them back in and keep your eye moving around the image, studying it (what your goal should be.) The best compositions keep your eyes moving, often in a circular fashion (or similar shape), following the lines around the image and back again to your focal point. It keeps your interest.
If you have ever wanted to understand composition better, studying the way your eyes move about an image will help you understand it better than any rules you read in a book or on the internet.