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Undoing the damage - Advanced Image Composition

ZoneV

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ZoneV Silver Member Nikonian since 08th Jan 2005
Mon 11-Feb-13 08:28 PM | edited Tue 12-Feb-13 03:21 AM by ZoneV

For the first 15 years of practicing photography, I got good at getting close and using the rule of thirds. By 2007, it was second nature.

In 2008, I realized that my compositions looked too regimented at times. I wasn't sure exactly what the solution was though.

More recently, I noticed that a lot of my photos lacked depth and were cropped too tightly. Some of them looked as though they could have been taken on a set in a studio and composited (tightly cropped human subject, defocused background). I stuck this in the back of my mind and decided to start using wide-angle lenses more.

Around the same time, I went on an interview for a part-time PJ gig for a small-town paper. The editor was not a photographer, and responded best to the tightly cropped images shot with a wide-angle lens from up close.

But I knew that I also wanted to learn to take wider shots as well. You know, the type of PJ images that tell a story and show more of the environment but still look professional even though they're not tight.

6 months ago, I stared looking at National Geographic again. The editor, Chris Johns, was a staff photographer for a long time. I read a quote from him talking about how he used to try to cram as many layers as possible into a photo to show the environment. In the magazine, I noticed that there were a lot of photos like that; he obviously has been pushing his photographers. I knew this had to be challenging, as it required feeling out, composing in 3 dimensions, and waiting for the best moment. But I decided I'd start trying.

I have the good fortune of subscribing to one of the more photojournalistic daily papers. I have noticed for the past year that many of the images that get run are wider shots that show the environment, tell a story, and sometimes have multiple layers.

So, for the past few months, I've been working on trying this approach in my own photojournalism. I don't quite have the hang of it yet, but I'm working on it. I've given up on actively composing; I no longer think about composition most of the time. I just trust my judgement. More often than not, I'm able to get away from the rule of thirds this way; the photos look less stiff and regimented when I think less. And I've been working on trying the wider, storytelling shots too.

It's hard, but I'm starting to successfully break out of a 15-year-long compositional tendency.

Has anyone else found that they are composing too tight sometimes, and need to pull back a bit?

An undeniable paradox: To think that there is any such thing as an absolute rule is at worst naïve, and at best, shortsighted. There is no such thing as an always-true, all context- or situation-salient, absolute rule that always holds true…including this one!

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