Thursday, June 11, 2009

The 2 Most Important Factors, Part 2

I believe the two most important factors in creating a good photograph are light and composition. The first most important factor for me is light. We talked about this previously. Having the correct light, the right exposure, in an image is not dependent on what camera equipment you use. Instead, it is the result of knowing how to use aperture, shutter speed, and ISO effectively, and knowing their affect on each other. Good exposure in an image comes from practice making the right decisions with your particular camera based on the available light.


Composition is a general term referring to the placement of objects within the photograph. "Good" composition is the result of placing these objects in a location that best "draws" the viewers eye. This is called visualization. Famed photographer Ansel Adams referred to visualization as "seeing it in your mind's eye". (To hear it in his own words, visit this link.) In other words, before I snap the shutter, I ask myself a number of questions. "What do I want the viewer to see? What is the subject of this photograph?" I might then ask other questions like, "At what angle will my camera best capture the scene? If I shift myself left or right, forward or backward, what will that bring into or eliminate from this photograph?" "Seeing" the answer to these questions, "seeing" the photograph as it will be in its finished state before you have snapped the shutter is visualization.

It all comes back to making the right decisions based on knowledge you have practiced and acquired. In the following photograph, I used the "S" curve of the pathway to draw the viewer's eye deeper into the image. In effect, this causes the surrounding elements, the flora, to disappear. I "saw" the pathway and "saw" the effect I wanted before I took the picture.

Walkway, Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

Walkway, Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

In that image, I had to ask myself what did I want people to focus on? And in that case, I chose the pathway and then adjusted my composition accordingly. The purpose of this next image was to give the viewer an idea of the thickness of the forest. Using the rules of thirds, I broke the image up horizontally into 3 pieces and placed the trees in the upper thirds. The dark trunks provide a strong vertical element, and despite their limited vertical distance in the photograph, you still get the idea they are much stronger and taller. I then gave most of the image, the bottom 2/3rds, to the palmettos. I purposefully adjusted my footing to place the strongest fronds in the foreground.

Now, at the same time I was visualizing the image horizontally, I watched for vertical elements as well. Where I finally stood for this image placed the largest pine to the left-side of the photograph, next to some larger taller palmettos, thus creating depth.

Pines and palmettos

Pines and Palmettos

I have found it to be a great exercise to spend time just composing images in my head. Even without a camera in my hand, or any intent to take an image, I think about what I would do to create the best photograph. Continued use of this technique has made it easier to compose images where the subject is not as stationary as a flower or a tree.

The green anole lizard below was only at this location with his head at that angle for a brief second in time. I actually ignored a lot of opportunities to click the shutter, in effect missing a lot of shots, as I waited for him to do something more "compositionally" correct. This does mean that sometimes I miss a picture of something I would otherwise have captured. But for me, I would rather have 1 visually pleasing image than 50 poor ones any day.

Green Anole on Pindo Palm Leaf

Green Anole on Pindo  Palm Leaf


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Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.


Tracy Ruckman said...

Excellent photos. I'm ready to head to Gatorland - how gorgeous.

Your Pines and Palmettos picture is one I imagined/described for a scene in my very first book, but my description wasn't pines and palmettos, so I'll have to change it to reflect that!

scw1217 said...

That is one of my favorite spots to visit and very typical of pine forests we see here. That picture was taken at Kissimmee State Park in Lake Wales, Florida. Glad you liked it.