A GEB pun. My intellectual outreach for the day.
I had a bit of a rant about photography clubs and judging in a previous post. Not that the man is down, but I feel a need to keep kicking. When I was still doing the club thing, one very interesting speaker we had wasn’t a photographer at all but an art teacher. You think photographers have it hard? We at least just deal with what is there. People who paint and draw can arrange anything to be anywhere, so they have to decide where every element of a picture is placed. What the art teacher said was that when you look at a picture, ask yourself why the artist arranged it that way, because they meant it. Painting and drawing aren’t just a slower version of photography.
It turns out there is even an eejit’s guide to composition: there are a set of well-known shapes that you can use to arrange things that are pleasing to the eye (try this for a starter). It turns out that putting the subject dead centre of the frame is only one of the options and may not be the best one. Like the painter and the scribbler, it appears that the photographer should take responsibility for choosing what is in the frame and where it falls. So I’ve heard judges suggesting that tension or balance could be improved by moving one of the elements. This is a useful ‘think of this next time’ response that could encourage reflection and learning. I’ve also heard judges criticise a picture because an object didn’t fall on a division of thirds, or because there were not an odd number of objects in the frame. Want to cause stress? Submit a square picture with the subject in the middle, or a rectangular picture with the subject in the wrong place. Or place a person at the edge of the frame, looking out.
Still, with Rule 10 of Lomography in mind, perhaps one should know what the rules are before breaking them? At least then the outcome was intentional, so that you can learn from it and develop it. Jackson Pollock didn’t just sneeze the paint onto his canvas. So yes, art is good. Look at lots of art. Some of those clever people could really squeeze a pencil and if the picture holds-up after even hundreds of years then there was some merit to it. There is no reason to turn into Oscar Rejlander though. If you feel yourself sliding into allegory, save yourself with the Filmosaur Manifesto. There’s also the Percy Principles of Art and Composition which I like. I think they boild down to: learn the rules, break the rules, learn. But don’t take it too seriously.
One thing I had a really interesting time with was cropping pictures to use as business cards. I wanted some of the Moo minicards, which are 5:2 ratio. This is much thinner than the 3:2 of a conventional 35mm frame. It’s very instructive to try and find the crop and when you do, you wonder what the rest of the picture was doing.
If I had more money than cents I would love a Hasselblad Xpan to shoot like this all the time. (I do have some alternatives though. I may write about them in future.) But cropping is free and can really change the tone of a picture. The Moo website offers the templates for their cards as downloads. Many a happy hour has been spent dragging photos onto the frame, resizing and rotating them. If the picture with the tree above is too puzzling, try turning it upside-down.
So there you go: composition. It’s one damn thing next to another.