Are you ready for the first “Ask Donna” post? Let jump right in!
Cheryl made the following comment on the last Photo of the Week post:
I have been taking note of your compositions, what you include in your shots, and what the eye is drawn to, the balance. Perhaps this is something you could talk about in an "Ask Donna" post? How do you choose the elements to include in a photo?
Thank you for that great suggestion! Below is the image for your reference, as I go through and give you a peek into what rolls around my wee noggin before clicking the shutter button. This is an interesting composition. It is a careful study of contrasts. I was mentally repeating the word “contrast” as I walked the scene, sizing it up, and figuring out where to set my tripod down and how to frame with a zoom lens.
I have discovered that one of the blessings of attending photo tours and workshops is that there is time devoted to carefully setting up your shots. At famous locations such as the Thomas A. Moulton barn in the Tetons, you certainly want to get the iconic compositions done first. But then you have the luxury of walking around and working the scene, looking for compositions that represent your own vision.
In this case, I wanted to place less emphasis on exactly where this shot was taken. Many avid photographers would probably never be able to precisely guess the barn’s identity from this composition. But that was my point. The subject is not the barn (despite the title on my blog post). The subject is a study of contrasts:
- Man-made structure in the wilderness
- Mountain backdrop to a flat valley
- Winter turning into spring
- Cool colors versus warm colors
- Sky meets earth
If only a horse was tied up to the posts at the end of the barn! That would have been perfect. But there is a hint of mystery in the photo – a door with a padlock. What’s on the other side? I love to include doors or windows in compositions because they help the viewer’s imagination.
So there is an example of my thinking that goes into a composition. At this point in my photography hobby, I have pretty much mastered the technicalities of camera operation and Photoshop. Now I can settle down and spend a little bit more time in the field to think about the subject matter and what I want a viewer to see and feel. Before I click the shutter button, I mentally envision what I want the finished image to look like.
It is a challenge to work the shots and find compositions that are not run-of-the mill and ordinary. But I have found that themes and self-assignments (in this case, “contrast”) help to pull my work in a more artful direction.
Bonus Tip: Use a tripod!
A tripod will force you to slow down because it takes more effort. You will automatically think more about the composition through the viewfinder. Added advantages are sharper images and the ability to shoot at lower ISO settings (less noise). In casing out a scene, I like to initially walk around with a camera hand-held to test out possible compositions. Then I set up my camera on a tripod.