Articles

LEE Filters: The Rules of Composition – Episode 12

October 11, 2019


I have to ask you, do you abide by the rules
of composition? No. But the so-called rules of composition aren’t
bad guidelines to have as a starting point. To then be ignored at will. And you? Possibly even more iconoclastic.
I really defy the rules of composition. Deliberately? No, because I agree with you in a way, but
I think they can be very misleading. In the sense that they can become
a straightjacket, or a formula. The landscape doesn’t look like that anyway. Everything’s a continuum of relationships. What I think matters is proportion,
balance, flow and depth. They are rather vague-sounding parameters. If you try to lock them in, in some formulaic
way, it doesn’t work. Do you compose a picture
before you’ve got the camera out the bag? I usually do most of it
before I get the camera out. I quite often use a card or viewfinder,
or an optical finder, just to set the boundaries. I can look at a scene, as I’m sure you do,
and imagine the side, top and bottom lines. I sometimes wonder
why we use a four-sided figure! It’s funny when you think the image circle
is actually a circle. However, the fact is,
we work with this four-sided figure. It isn’t a fixed point, it just happens
to be the shape of the camera. I’m not against cropping if the proportions
of what you’re looking at need to be different. But it is inevitable that the camera you use
has an influence on the way you see. I try to make decisions about that relationship
between foreground and background, lens choice and composition,
before I unzip the camera bag. If I don’t, it’s far too easy
to start going too wide and incorporating too much foreground interest
at the expense of the background. So I’m always thinking about that relationship. For example, if I’m in a mountain environment,
I want the mountains to look big, so going too wide is clearly a mistake. Funnily enough, I now expose fewer frames
than I did in the film era. I can be that much more analytical, and don’t
have to bracket exposures the way I did. You can be completely secure about exposure.
That makes a big difference. Whereas in the past, you would have
gone minus and plus one, minus and plus a half, as well as normal. Plus, we wanted multiple originals.
Madness, really. It’s funny to think that the lenses
have a big influence. Most of us have zooms
and it’s inevitable we benefit from that. In my large-format systems,
I don’t have any zooms. I can go out with one camera and one lens. It might be an average wide lens. The discipline that gives is very helpful
– to stick with one way of seeing. Perspective is very significant
for an effective composition. So, where you place the tripod and what height, all these differences are absolutely critical. Watching people on the courses we run, they almost by default set the tripod up
at head height. Yet so often you can get something
more interesting by going higher. That’s creativity. That’s what we always have to bear in mind
when thinking about composition. The rules should never inhibit your creativity.

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