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| p.1 #4 · first post, wife and I are trying to learn...CandC? |
I have a web site full of tutorials, including one on composition, you may find helpful: http://photo.nova.org/
A analytical photojournalist rather than artist by temperament I approach photographic composition as I do writing a story or telling a joke. It is said a photo is worth 1,000 words, but most effective stories told in photos are more akin to a well constructed sentence or one-line joke than a short story and the problem is the photographer needs to arrange the content in the photo so the word picture formed in the brain of the viewer is what they intend. Which composition decisions wind up telling the story as intended starts with knowing yourself what the storyline and punchline are before taking the photo.
When composing a photo or critiquing one I ask myself what is most important to the message and how much background context is needed to convey the intended message. After identifying the center of interest where I want the viewer to wind up dwelling on and returning to I zoom in tight on it, literally with the lens or figuratively with imaginary cropping guides, then slowly expand the frame from the focal point outward, adding more and more context to the story. At some point in any photo when there is as many pixels devoted to the background as there are to the focal point the storyline shifts from being focal point centric to context centric. Your first and third shots are good examples of that. It is more about the environment than the people.
Comparing those two shots in the similar setting which do you think tells the story more effectively? The one with the figures centered in the frame or the third where they are off to the side? I find the first more effective because what is more interesting to me than the people is the pattern of the overhanging branches forming a tunnel they are walking down. That tunnel imagery is lost in the third shot due the way it is cropped. The image of a tunnel in the first shot would have been even stronger had you cropped a bit wider and included all of the arch of the first tree in the foreground.
In the third shot the tighter crop shifts more of the focus to the people which are slightly larger. What makes it interesting to me, despite the backs being turned, is how the tilt of Mom's body is matching the bend of the tree they are looking at in the background. That relationship is easier to see if all the other distractions are removed from it...
How did I find that relationship? By first cropping in tight on the figures then slowing expanding the frame and exploring different crops to find some storyline more interesting than the backs of two strangers.
That also raises an issue to consider when shooting photos you plan to share with strangers like me, the role personal experience plays in how one reacts to a photo. Your reaction those two photos will differ greatly from mine because you know and love the people whose backs are turned to the camera and I don't. So for starters we are judging it with a different set of subjective emotional filters. After looking at the first wide establishing shot and my "medium" crop of your third shot I still have not related to the people because I haven't seen their faces. So what you need in that sequence is a third shot, with Mom and kid, faces together, sitting in a big pile of leaves on the ground, looking up in the camera. That's the missing piece, the "punchline", needed here to complete the story of the the kid's first walk in the woods for me. Then if forced to pick one one of those three shots to convey the story the choice would be pretty obvious — the one with the smiling faces.
The problem I have with your second shot is that it lacks any compelling focal point or difference between what is seen in the reflection and the actual trees in the background. I find scenic reflection shots are more interesting when they contain some interesting content in the foreground for the viewer to find as they explore into the shadows....
In a photo like that one, composed similarly to your first, differs in that there are multiple focal points. It's a more complex story and the challenge compositionally is trying to predict and control which order the viewer will see them when composing the shot. For example did you notice the Lincoln Monument in the background or the ducks in the foreground first? Your reaction would differ whether or not you've ever been to Washington, D.C. (or seen Forest Gump) and recognize that it is the Lincoln Memorial seen on the back of the $5 in your wallet. My intention in composing and editing the shot is that the viewer find the monument first and then follow its refection down in to the shadows to find the ducks. I tried to influence that by using the relative contrast of the white building vs. the dark ducks and water. The ducks were also kind enough to pose for me like the politicians further up Capitol Hill from that location
That's an example of what I suggested as the "missing" part of the story in your woods shot. Without first seeing the establishing shot of the ducks in the reflecting pool of the Lincoln Memorial for context the joke about the politicians wouldn't have worked.
The point to take away here is sometimes you can tell a complete story in one shot by including a compelling focal point (i.e. smiling faces) and background context, and sometimes you can tell the same complete story in a sequence of photos. When shooting I find it helps to think in terms of whether or not the POV in the shot works as an establishing shot, medium shot showing relationship of subject and location like my crop of your second shot, or a close-up where there isn't any obvious context an the focus is on the subject's or their actions. When you start thinking and shooting with type of storytelling in mind you wind find your photos start telling the complete story of your family outings better...