When Composing – use it or lose it

Losing my religionHave you thought about how much or how little you need in a picture to communicate effectively with the viewer?

One of the key jobs a photographer has to do is decide what is included and what is left out of a picture. For a picture to work effectively all the included elements must work together to give a coherent message. That might sound patronising obvious, but we only see what is important to us as beginners unless we train ourselves to look at the background as well as the subject matter BEFORE we press the shutter release. This is because the brain naturally filters what is not the essence of the scene.

Cameras do not have emotions, a memory bank of pictures to draw inspiration from, other senses such as hearing, smell, touch and taste, it only records the brightness of what’s in front of the lens. The camera has no facility to make critical or emotional judgements. The camera is only a tool to record the photographers thoughts – nothing more.

Hence the title of this post – “when composing – use it or lose it”. If an element of subject matter is not adding to the subject or causing a distraction – take it out or reduce its effect. This point was reinforced by FATman when we met up for drink this week. See his great blog at http://eccentric99.wordpress.com/

This picture called “Losing my religion” was first created in 2009. The original picture was taken four years before that in 2005 on Lundy Island. When I originally did this picture back in 2009 it wasn’t finished with a Lith effect.

It looks as if I’m starting to do a trend of pictures that have been severely altered through the elimination of all but the salient details. I would not call it a style because I’ve done very few of this type picture. Creating a style for oneself means that you can refer back to say a hundred pictures with the same look or the same idea or same design. With this trend I have done the pictures called “the long road” and “a pilgrims progress”. To see these images scroll back through my blog. With all of these pictures there is a common motif of a broken path with a single centre of interest. I like the broken paths because they invite the viewer to use logic to make the connections.

I did wonder what the graphic design will be like if I flipped the picture (above) horizontally, so I created a copy in Lightroom and flipped it. However for me it didn’t work as well as the one shown here, the reason being that the guy is walking out the picture towards the right. In the flipped version he would walking out towards the left which is counter-intuitive to the way we generally think a picture should flow.

So this picture was created from a standard 3 x 2 aspect ratio file that was then crop down to 6:17 aspect ratio to remove the sky and a lot of the background buildings. All other unwanted detail was painted out with the Lightroom adjustment brush with the brush opacity set at 100% and 100% flow. As always when using the adjustment brush I use the Overlay Mask to set where the adjustments will be made first. I press the “O” key on the keyboard, then you can paint in the red mask where you want to make an adjustment, press the “O” key again to turn mask off and then make adjustments the appropriate sliders.

This is obviously a very aggressive technique that creates a highly graphic effect. I would recommend that for normal use the Adjustment Brush in either Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom is used gently with settings of around 25% Opacity, 75% Flow and 0% Hardness as a starting point.

A big hello to all the new followers of my little blog this week.

(c) Andy Beel FRPS 2013


4 responses to When Composing – use it or lose it

  1. Paula says:

    Andy, I like your picture lots, as usual. Roads are, of course , highly symbolic photos, suggesting our path through life and the difficulties we face, portrayed so well by your ‘broken’ path’, which would, in the original pic be lost by all the clutter around about, I presume.
    I could not get into ‘Fat Man’s’ blog about the subject though,..the link did not seem to google’s liking.


  2. Adrian Lewis says:

    Hi Andy – good to meet you, and thanks very much indeed for the plug here, that’s very good of you!

    As we agreed, it is surprising how commonly items unrelated to the composition are left in the “finished” image. And I totally agree with you regarding looking at the background pre-capture – an over intrusive background can completely wreck a shot.

    Your idea of eliminating all but salient features is a good one, and its very good to see the slim letterbox format you’ve used above. Another simple piece of advice I suppose – which is related to the salient features mentioned here – is to fill the frame with whatever the subject is – which of course includes any space around the subject that helps the composition.

    I’m also a frequent user of digital flipping – it reminds me of turning colour transparencies back to front when projecting them. Adrian


  3. Currently my new favourite photograph Andy. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t spend a few minutes staring at it full size on the screen, just wonderful. The processing is sublime.


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