We have all seen the photo of too much stuff in a photograph. Because the photographer makes no attempt to select one subject the photograph fails to communicate. The “run on sentence” is the written word comparison to this visual example.
A close-up of a detail frequently reveals more of the subject than a picture of the whole subject. So many want to shoot general views because they believe it offers “good composition” or to capture the beautiful light. The detail photograph can have more impact and communicate more because the photographer is forced to be interpretive with the detail. The isolated part can tell more, be more emphatic, and more quickly appreciated and understood. It tells the story in compressed, sometimes dramatic, by scaling-down to point out a specific idea with greatest effect.
In approaching a subject decide how much to include in the viewfinder of the camera. You must force yourself to look around the subject and look at each of the corners and everything within the frame of the viewfinder. If there is anything in the picture area that detracts from the theme, move in closer to eliminate it; if not enough, move back to include more. The key to this exercise is to know what you want this way the details will fall naturally into place and “composition” is achieved.
I have found this procedure in teaching photography students most effective. First, shoot a large scene, then close in on it and cut it in half. Close in again and again until, finally, you isolate the most important subject and thus make a statement about the main thing in the scene. In this way, you learn, bit by bit, that lots of things you see in a picture are really unimportant, and so you learn how to select the part or parts that are most meaningful.
Great photographers know that composition is more than that—it is a matter of feeling rather than of rules learned by rote; that you will develop this feeling as you go along; and that you never really “know it all” because, as you learn more about life, you put emphasis on different things. For composition is just another way of looking at life.
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