How to Compose a Photograph Re-visited

Composition in its simplest terms relates to the way things are arranged. Some days I think that I have spent so much time on what others have said and are saying about how to go about composing a photograph that I have heard it all. You work at making it pleasing and there are things you can do to accomplish this. I should have, over time, been exposed to everything that can be said on the subject. Shouldn’t I?  You know…thirds, Golden Mean, leading lines, diagonals, shapes, framing, etc., etc., etc. “Learn the rules, then you can break them.” On and on and on.

Well, surprise, surprise. Just recently I have heard two things in relation to composition that were different. Or at least they were new to me in the context of the composition of photographs.

The first has to do with my physical body. I never thought about the ability to move an unmovable object out of the way on site is a possibility for any photographer! It’s much quicker than Photoshop. Just a few days ago my camera and I checked out the annual event in Adams, TN, where owners of old-time steam-powered pieces of farm equipment bring and show them. My people were all farmers; as a boy, I rode a combine threshing machine and have worked at baling hay.

I wanted a picture above of the baler that operated in the 1920’s. The problem was that if I got on one side, the background was full of light poles sticking up in the air. If I got on the other side, I could choose either the top of a gigantic inflatable playground for children or a large group of people who had come to watch. All of these were distractions. My feet and my knees enabled me to move the light poles and the top of the playground out of the way and to get rid of most of the bystanders.

A second suggestion for adding impact to an image is to point your lens at where the action is! Of course, you need to broadly define “action.” In the context of what I heard recently it is the point in the image to which you want the viewer’s eyes to go. What grabbed me was the guy who was doing all the work of forking the straw into the baler. Today, machinery scoops up the straw and cranks it out back onto the field for later pickup… mainly round bales these days. In the old days, the action was human.

To me, combining my body and my lens direction allowed me to control where I wanted your eyes to go first. Isn’t that the job of a photographer?

What do you think?