Teaching or learning composition is not an easy task!
Over the years, I myself have struggled with some of the concepts and have seen others struggle to come to terms with the concept of “good composition”.
I have seen members at camera clubs become supremely defensive when a judge or a mentor provides them with feedback and critique.
Like in most of the other ares of life, good composition in a way is about making hard decisions. Consciously or unconsciously a photographer makes a decision to include or not include part of a scene in a photograph – to record or not to record a certain image. While in the process of making these images and conscious & unconscious decisions, most of the photographers make strong emotional attachments to their images without realizing that they are doing it.
Most of the self-evaluations we do about our images, in my opinion, are based on the strength of these emotional attachments rather than the real artistic merit of the images themselves.
This, I think is true for the majority of beginners and intermediate photographers and perhaps even pros! If you don’t believe me, hang around your local camera club after the judging session of a monthly competition!
So what makes a good composition a good composition? A fine art image a fine art image?
What makes a well-composed fine art image different from an image captured to record a memory, an event in history or a fun moment?
I think Mr. Art Wolfe answers these questions very eloquently during his workshop, which in reality was more like a series of lectures – but a really worthwhile series of lectures.
Art starts his main presentation by drawing inspiration from great painters of the past. He takes the listener through various historical periods of art while pointing out the lessons one can draw from the great masters.
As a person who firmly believes that the artists of the Renaissance period understood light better than most modern-day photographers, I kept on listening to this part of his lecture with utmost fascination.
Art then shrewdly and mathematically deconstructs the rules of composition and presents the listener with a set of well laid out guidelines while showing examples from the great body of work he had created over the years.
He talks about balance, lines, gestures, motion and rhythm as parts of composition and convincingly makes a set of arguments to drive each of his points home.
During this presentation he tells us how he developed this ‘new way’ of thinking and approach over the recent years, and shows us the gradual evolution of his mind and thinking. He shows us how a person can continue to evolve and learn even after achieving things most others can only dream of.
By the end of his presentation, Art very unkindly takes most of the excuses away from people by ruthlessly dissecting the concept of “good composition”, and teaches the listener even a ‘subjective’ discipline like art can be scientifically deconstructed, and therefore can be learnt, by training one’s mind to take hard decisions!