The Thursday Composition: On Learning Composition

This is the first in a series of regular weekly posts I’ll make each Thursday on the subject of photographic composition. Before I start digging into the “rules” of composition, though, I’d like to start with a general discussion about composition and, more importantly, how one learns the skill of seeing, composing, and capturing effective compositions.

In teaching photography, as well as looking at my own evolution as a photographer, I find that composition is one of the most difficult subjects to teach in a classroom. Much of what we do as photographers is technical, balancing precise controls over ISO, aperture, focal length, and shutter speed and balancing those quantities based on the situation, and the answers there are often clearly “right or wrong”, you either do or don’t have enough depth-of-field to keep a flower in focus.

But composition is different. It’s both subjective and, to the extent that we can talk about “rules” of composition, there are many such “rules”, which interact and sometimes contradict each other. I look at the subject of composition is a palette of many ideas and techniques from which we select a few for any given image, often based on the feeling and meaning we’re trying to convey.

As such, teaching composition usually requires a lot more teaching by example–both looking at effective photographs but also taking photographs and getting feedback from other eyes, particularly other talented photographers. This is one of the strongest reasons to take advantage of taking the better photographic workshops, getting feedback from talented photographers both teaching those classes and, in many cases, other photographers in the same workshop. Exposure to what other photographers (and other artists) are doing with the same scenes can broaden your compositional horizons greatly.

In order to make “The Thursday Composition” a more effective learning tool, I’m making the following offer. Each week, starting with this one, you may submit a single photographic image for me to give feedback on–just provide a link in the comments. I’ll answer at least a couple oof them with feedback on composition and whatever else comes to mind. While you’re welcome and encouraged to submit your best images, I’d also recommend you consider submitting images that “didn’t quite come out the way I’d hoped.”

I look forward to your submissions!

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