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Demystifying Composition

excerpt from Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers

by Gloria Hopkins

Composition refers to the structure and organization of the elements within the photograph. The arrangement of these elements is called composition. ‘It has a clean composition.’ ‘It has a busy composition.’ ‘It has a striking composition.’ Regardless of the adjective, every image has a composition.

You have all heard the word composition before: It’s the stuff that makes up the thing. For example, for a soda it’s the water, juices, carbonation, and chemicals; for an article it’s the structure and the order of the sentences and paragraphs. For a photograph, it’s everything inside the frame and the frame itself that make up the image. In the field, when you try different angles and distances, you are composing the image: selecting what you want to include and eliminating what you don’t want to include.

The building blocks of the composition, its components or elements, are things such as shape, form, line, and point. These are the tangibles. There are also intangibles in each photograph that play an equally significant role in image making. Things such as color, light, mood, tones, harmony, contrast, balance, and time-of-day all work with the tangible elements in the scene and contribute to the final image.

So you have the tangibles and the intangibles. All of these components must be considered by the artist each time he or she makes a photograph; the process is not simple or easy. You take a scene from nature and put it onto a very small piece of photographic media. To raise your images above the level of snapshots, and to demand more than Program Mode offers, you must learn to use every photographic tool to your advantage. These include the functionality provided by the camera, the elements that make up the scene, and the skills and vision of you, the artist. You must learn to communicate without words.

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excerpt from Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers, Available Now!

Revised August 2011
Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins