Composition Is King

Composition Is King

Is the modern photographer bound to use image manipulation?  It seems to me most images are subject to a tweak or two.  Seeing a manipulated image is fine for a time and soon becomes a little tedious.  High Dynamic Range imagery is like looking at a picture painted by a colour blind artist, no matter who takes the picture the digital filter overwhelms the composition.  The recent articles on Van Gogh and his apparent colour blindness makes for fascinating reading, his work is instantly recognisable, a troubled man following his own path of art and self destruction are within each firework of colours.  I wonder if a man who knew nothing of Van Gogh’s difficult life could work out from viewing his work that he was a troubled man?  In my mind his work is wonderful and the knowledge that his was a consummate formal artist enhances his later imagery.  Crazy, depressed and alcoholic he certainly painted his emotions.

Picasso seemed to be a man of strong character, who lived life to the full.  I sense the purpose and reason of life in the vibrance of colour used on many of his canvasses.   His paintings are wonders of art when one realises that he also was an incredible formal artist.  What he created were abstracts of bright and powerful content and colour which at first glance seem to be random child like imagery.  Nothing could be further from the reality, the objects, faces, animals and shapes within each picture is perfectly positioned and composed to form incredible symbolic distortion of reality.  Picasso could easily have produced facsimiles of the world he painted. One could think of his work like algebraic equations .  That’s the magic (and it is magic) of the true artist.

The photographer has a difficult conundrum – How does s/he make his work stand out from the crowd?  S/he fails at the first hurdle if there is a belief that the camera and lens will achieve this for them and many fail if they believe the electronic photographic filters (Image manipulation) can achieve this. The promises of the latest cameras and software are like pots of rainbow gold.

I recently wrote a series of three Kindle publications centred around 35mm film photography.  In the title ‘35mm Film and Print Processing’  the reader is guided to use simple techniques to produce good quality black and white prints.  The three Kindle Publications have a common thread, which is that the printer/photographer should work with basic equipment and concentrate upon composition more than the processes and the equipment.

The three pictures below are taken from the top of a high disused railway tunnel near the city centre.  The first image shows the car park to the left and the high wall of the approach to the tunnel on the right where the car park and grassed areas was once railway tracks.  Look carefully in the bottom left hand corner and there is a pigeon-just about to land.  The other two pictures are close up images of the tunnel wall focusing on the foreground bricks, the background a smooth blur.  No masterpieces with no additional processing.  The old Canon 5d in program mode. Colour – neutral.

Above The Tunnel One
Above The Tunnel One
Above The Tunnel Two
Above The Tunnel Two
Above The Tunnel Three
Above The Tunnel Three

When printed out the two ‘close up wall’ images have nice 3d effect.  Of the three I prefer the portrait image.

The next three images are of and from a simple wooden wall which surrounds a recently demolished building.  Similar to the last trio a long and wide angle view and two close ups.  I find the lights vandal covers to be an excellent and interesting design.  The wall and the avenue of illumination must surely make an excellent background for a suitable subject.

Black Wall - Many Lights
Black Wall – Many Lights
Vandal Protected Light One
Vandal Protected Light One
Vandal Protected Light Two
Vandal Protected Light Two

The final images are self explanatory.  This time the temporary wall hides building work and presumably protects equipment from vandalism and the risk of theft.

Picture On A Wooden Wall One
Picture On A Wooden Wall One
Sign In Signs
Pictures On A Wooden Wall Two

The three groups are all to be found within a 200 meter radius. We do not have to go far to find subjects to photograph.

What can be learned from this short blog?  If I write that taking, three or more pictures of a somewhat subdued subject (the tunnel exit) can add interest and even the simplest of designs (vandal proof lights) can provoke the mind into finding alternative uses for it.

What alternative use?

I feel the lights and the black wooden walls would make superb lighting and backdrop for an urban portrait.

The last two images confirm my ability to frame within the viewfinder.  I learn that with my 50mm f1.4 lens I can achieve excellent depth of field and by turning only a few degrees to my right the whole aspect of the composition changes.  Each day I record images and every one is taken with care and thought, proof prints are printed and I learn from even the most mundane of images.  Going back to basics, using simple cameras is not restrictive, it is progressive.

Van Gogh and Picasso were brilliant classical artists before they turned their work in other directions to create the unique masterpieces.  If a photographer wishes to learn how to stand above the crowds even a basic understanding of how to compose simple imagery takes them in the right direction.

Composition is King – Believing cameras and software will turn any snapshot into a W Eugene Smith work of compositional genius is pure delusion.  Most viewers of the manipulated image see through the illusion…

One comment

  1. Loved this post! I struggle between image manipulation and taking a good photograph. I try to get the best possible shot in the camera before transitioning to photoshop more because it frustrates me sitting still for any length of time lol
    Great post Ian! Best one yet 🙂

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