Composition top 15 by Alain Briot

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Alain Briot
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Composition top 15 by Alain Briot

15 Thoughts on Fine Art Photography Composition
by Alain Briot

What are the most important aspects of composing a Fine Art Photograph?  The answer to this question certainly varies from photographer to photographer because each of us places more importance on some aspects than on others.  What follows is what I personally consider to be the most important aspects of Composition.

Zabriskie-collage-3-600
Moonset at Sunrize, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California

This list is excerpted from a longer list that I use for teaching during my workshops and seminars.  The decision to create a shorter list, with only 15 items instead of 37, stemmed from the desire to focus on the essential aspects of composing a fine art photograph regardless of the  subject we are studying or the specific project we are working on. The resulting list is free from a particular teaching emphasis and represents what I look for in a Fine Art Photograph.

This is Edward Weston’s definition of composition. It is still my favorite definition of composition

Composition also involves using color, contrast and light. Composition includes post processing in the raw converter and in Photoshop.

The goal of Fine Art Composition is not to create a documentary representation of the scene. Nor is it to create a photograph that is only technically perfect. The goal is to create an image that is superior, both expressively and technically. An image that demonstrate both mastery of vision and technical virtuosity.

Take stock of your emotional response to the scene in front of you. Record those emotions in writing or in audio.  Use light, color, contrast, composition and cropping to reproduce these emotions visually. Work on this both in the field and in the studio.

A photograph is only as good as the light you use. The subject is less important than the light that illuminates this subject. The best subject in bad light does not make for a good photograph.

Find a great foreground and place it in front of a great background. Make sure your foreground is large enough to play an important role in the composition.

Human beings think and see in terms of opposites. Therefore this is something everyone can relate to.

Examples of opposite elements include:

  • Static / moving
  • Young / old
  • Large / small
  • Organic / man made

IMG_2252-600

Cottonwood Trees in Fall Colors, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

If tempted to redo an image you have seen, just buy the postcard, the book or the poster. You cannot be someone else, therefore you cannot take the same photographs as someone else. You will waste time trying to do so.Instead, start to create your own images right away.

You can certainly be inspired by the work of other photographers. We have all been inspired by the work of other artists and photographers. This is an inherent aspect of the artistic process.

Cameras and other gears are technical. Inspiration is artistic. The two exist on different planes.
Achieving a Personal style in Fine Art means working as an artist not just as a technician.

Certainly, a camera is a necessity. However, your camera cannot compose a photograph anymore than your car can drive itself. You are the one who composes your photographs, not your camera.

There is no such thing as “the right thing” in art. “What is Art ?” is a question to which there are many answers. We therefore have to answer this question for ourselves. We are also bound to disagree with others because fine art is a polarized activity.

All fine art prints are a modification of the image recorded by the camera. The composition of the image you started in the field is continued in the studio. This is done through image optimization because colors, contrast, borders, image format, etc. are all part of composition.

There is no such thing as the “right” color balance in Fine Art. This is because color is one of the ways you express your emotional response to the scene. For this reason, the “right” color balance for a specific image will differ from one  photographer to the next.

Recreating a composition you saw before is easy. Creating a brand new composition, one you have never seen before, is difficult. This is because doing so requires transforming the natural chaos into an organized image. It involves creating order out of chaos, as Elliott Porter said.

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