Composition in the Field

For the Art Photographer

Note: This document is a follow-up companion to Lessons in Composition for the Art Photographer. It's primarily directed towards landscape photography, which is what I know best, although many concepts translate into other genres.

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Figure 1. 44-19

Aesthetic Instincts

Now that you've had a bit of sink-or-swim exposure to the theoretical side of composition you may be thinking: "That's all very well on paper, but what good does it do me when I'm out on a shoot with my camera?" – Well, that's the subject of this tutorial.

At one's leisure one can sit down and analyse a picture in any amount of detail - according to the principles explained in my composition tutorial or any others. But - in the field, through the puny finder of your camera with often only seconds to prepare before the lighting or other factors change – that leisure isn't often there. The solution is twofold:

  1. Shoot several shots from as many different angles, etc., as time allows.
  2. Rely on your finely-honed aesthetic instincts to recognise the best approach.

(2) In turn derives from the years you've spent looking at the work of other artists, as well as the years you've spent in the shoot-edit-print-evaluate loop of your own work.

I, for one, do not see in the field all the elements of composition I will later discover in front of the resulting print. In fact, my approach in the field is very simple and seat-of-the-pants, as I'll explain shortly.

Hone your compositional instincts at home by looking at and analysing many, many pictures.