Tuesday, March 3, 2009
The Mistress in my Lens: Composition
Warm smoke from the Madura wrapped Fuente passes between my lips. The zipper on my 700 grain jacket bites at my skin, cold to the touch at 10,000 feet. One check of my live-view, the sun still a halo in my lens. It would be another five minutes before the light was a perfect kiss, adding rose-colored wings to the high peaks that are to be, my backdrop.
A five second-exposure, and two strobes to add fill into the immediate
-foreground. This helps light a barrel cactus in bloom, and is the starting point of my image, allowing the eye a window in.
Somewhere between cactus and rim’s edge, flows the Black River. The river forms a lazy S-curve carrying the eye from cactus to cliffs. Hints of red, pink, and orange started to show itself in the surface of the water. I take this as a sign, of pictures yet to be captured.
As the tail of the river drifts out of frame to the right, the red cliffs of the Mogollon rim, shaded from sun, raise skyward to meet clouds and light three- quarters the way up my viewfinder.
Composition is a love-a-fair. (The mistress in my lens) She opens the door for others to step through, and ultimately, see from inside me, out. I’ve been to the spot described above a dozen times. Scouting out that shot so far has been many two-and-a-half hour drives from my house, dozens of weather reports, cups of coffee, and miles later. My internal voice must be an optimist, because I am a believer every time it tells me, “This time will be the trip.” At this present moment I still haven’t captured the shot yet, I will.
There are ten-thousand ways to take better pictures, but composition and its basic principles are, in my mind, the number one way to immediately increase your results.
Let’s take a jump from the Mogollon Rim shot in the making and its mindset, to the high planes of Idaho in February. Snow covered, and frozen, these roads turn out to be a perfect spot for my next composition. (photo above)
Rule Number One: Subject in Foreground
You need something of interest to focus on, something that let’s your viewer in the door, taking them from edge of screen/paper to mid-ground of your image. In the black and white above, it was the formation in the snow. The wave like appearance struck me as very similar to sand-dune shots I’ve seen in the Southwest, but here and in front of me, in snow.
The shadows, along with texture carry the image to Rule Number Two: Middle Ground
Linear curves and other naturally pleasing shapes and patterns are a staple for mid-ground composition. In the image above the snow makes an S-Curve leading the viewer to the frost-covered prairie brush.
Rule Number Three: Backdrop
Backdrop is as important as the foreground subject. You need a way out of your image and the background is that for your eye. In the B&W we’ve been discussing above, I wanted the viewer to exit-stage-left. I intentionally kept the negative space to the left of the barn, adding tension with a fading fence-post of ominous things in the beyond. In my opinion, it added mystery, which is what I was feeling when taking the shot. The wind was blowing to beat hell, and snow from the plains was clouding the sky, wind-tossed like dust on a dry Kansas day. Add the negative temperature and lack of visibility from the aforementioned blowing snow and it was down right eerie out.
For further emphasis I moved positions to capture the footprints exiting left as well. They were deer tracks, I checked, but added to the sense of being lost in such harsh conditions. Bleak and mysterious, mixed with exiting off into the abyss was what I was feeling, I have know idea how others will take this image, some may scoff as they turn the page to someone else’s work. For me, the composition is king, color is second. Build me a house and you can paint it any color you like. It’s the frame that sets the mood, the feel, and grabs me by the collar. Saying, “Hey Aaron, something is going on here, pay attention”!
So next time you’re out and about, lens-at-large, give you own introspection some thought. Try and paint the canvas with how you feel on the inside, about what you see on the outside. Put the three basic rules above into play and see what takes you in, holds you, and finally let’s you go. Ask yourself, does it hit you? If so, Capture it. Finally, try to remember: Composition is King.