There are a lot of shitty sites about photography on the internet, I’ve highlighted a couple of them, but there are a couple of really decent ones. Luminous Landscape is one of them, and it’s pretty much the only place on the internet where you can talk about digital MF with people who’ve done more than read a PhaseOne press release.
I don’t like John Paul Caponigro. His dad, Paul Caponigro, is an incredible artist, easily one of the strongest expressive landscape shooters ever. John Paul is a photoshop jockey who could, on a good day, clean his father’s darkroom. All that said, he managed to write a pretty decent piece on composition for LL.
Composition is a goddamn trap for beginning photographers. People look at their shots and – doesn’t matter if they know what the hell they’re talking about – say stuff like, “oh yeah, I like the composition in this one.” Uh, yeah. Anyway, composition is simply order. It’s the act of ordering the objects and tones of a scene. That’s all there is to it.
Here’s how to not learn composition: rules. Rules of thirds, rules of fifths, diagonals. All that crap just makes you take up knitting. Sure, it’s easy to write articles about them, but they’re… what’s the technical term… utter shit. When you’re taking a picture, you don’t want to be remembering rules, you want to be taking a goddamn picture.
My recommendation is a lot simpler than rules, but a lot harder because it requires effort, and you know nobody on the internet wants to do that. Go to a library, get some albums of paintings, stuff by classical painters, and trace them – just like this this example from JPC. Tracing paper, a soft pencil and off you go. Do it every evening for 30 minutes for a week. Do it a hundred, two hundred times. You will learn to see composition, through the hand to the eye, as many a teacher has said.
Oh, and shoot black and white for a while, color will just mess with your head at first, and it’ll hide your fuckups. Now that’s all fun and good when you’re trying to bullshit your way into a commission, but when you’re learning, it misses the point.
Why painting and not HCB, Adams or Newton? First, if you want to learn to copy a photographer’s style, that’s a great way to do it. Second, nothing in a painting is there by accident. Everything, every line, bird, detail, shadow, cloud, everything was put there with a purpose. Just like in your photographs.