Two Photographic Necessities: Lighting & Composition

With today's auto-do-everything cameras and post-processing software, a lot of the art in photography has become secondary or you could argue it has freed the masses to take guaranteed good pictures. However, one thing not even the best of cameras can do is show you/tell you the best angle and/or position from which to capture a scene on a given day in a given season, under given lighting conditions. This is where the skill of composition and "reading" the light come into play and I think it is akin to practice makes better, (for humans there really isn't such a thing as " ... makes perfect" - although it is perfectly fine to strive for it). Photography is primarily about lighting and composition (yes I know there are several other points to consider, but perhaps at another time) because without them there is no photography or very poor attempts at photography. As far as lighting goes, the in-camera meters are pretty good for the majority of pictures people take, but to get even more precise measurements, hand-held light meters are the norm. I have three Sekonic light meters, two with narrow field of view incident reading capabilities. Light meters help me "read" the entire scene I am considering and then decide where I want my highlights - mid-tones - and shadows (with and without detail). But before this, I need to have clearly in mind what I want to include in the viewfinder and what to leave out - this is where a significant part of the art of photography begins. Former director of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art: John Szarkowski in a portion of his book The Photographer's Eye, deals with what a photographer leaves in and out of the viewfinder. Ask yourself, What will I include and/or leave out of my viewfinder? I think this would make for a fascinating discussion amongst photographers.

Composition, i.e. what one includes in the viewfinder and from what perspective, is extremely important because it may determine how successful a photographer is at effectively conveying his contemporaneous feelings around a photographic experience. For instance, minimalism in a photograph can sometimes make a stronger statement than a picture filled with symbols - sometimes the simplest compositions evoke the greatest emotion.
The angle or perspective from which a photograph is taken can also significantly assist in making a photograph rise from mediocrity to something unique - something that warrants a second look and possibly some discussion. Consider the daffodils above, I had to lay on my back/side as memory serves in order to get this image. It's easy to take a picture from eye-level or even kneeling down, but this wasn't good enough for me, I wanted to see clearly inside some of those flowers. So I visited Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, British Columbia, CANADA early in the morning before throngs of people arrived to get this image. As a bonus, I also got a nice blue sky and pink Sakura blooms in the background. A small 35mm Nikon camera made working at such a low angle possible.

The photo of the cobwebbed window and metal lathe was different as I was working with my Toyo 45 AII large format camera mounted on a tripod. Once I came about this old machine shoppe and saw that window, I just knew that was the composition for me. The difficulty was in holding detail in the window panes whilst holding it also on part of the lathe. It brings a sense of nostalgia to a working age long gone replaced by high tech CNC machines and electronic controlled machinery.
I'm sure everyone will have a different opinion about this topic, and that's a good thing because we can all learn from each other - other perspectives and viewfinder framing rationales are all valuable and enrich the visual growth of each participant. Perhaps you can use this modest article as a stepping stone to examining how lighting and composition inform or define your photography.


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