on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

On Golden Rules…

Composition - David Ward breaks the rules... again!

The great American landscape photographer Ansel Adams wrote, "A good photograph is knowing where to stand." Well, not the most specific tip on composition that I’ve ever come across! For artists of all kinds, mastering the problems of composition seems at once fundamental and tantalisingly out of reach. Little surprise, then, that there is a strong urge to codify composition, to provide not only practical instruction but also, in some cases, a theoretical basis to underpin this. The basic problem of composition is how do we solve the complex four-dimensional puzzle of rendering reality into a two-dimensional visual arrangement that we find visually acceptable. This might appear to be just a problem of geometry: a problem of how to fit the forms we are presented with inside our frame. Indeed geometry, as we shall see, has been championed as the most useful route to good composition. However, the parameters for acceptability are more complex than mere questions of form. They relate to basic biology and the psychology of how humans perceive the world as well as to the particular cultural context that produced the image – hence the Renaissance period producing markedly different art from that of Ancient Egypt, or that of 20th Century Europe or that of 18th Century Japan. But composition is far too big a subject to cover in a single article so I have decided instead to start by concentrating on one aspect: the so-called Rules.



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