What to leave in, what to take out

Composition is all about making an image interesting to the viewer.  It might be the subject, the story behind the subject, the overall beauty of the image, the processing – any number of things that simply render an image “look-able.”  For me, composition is about the hardest part of this image creation thing.

Hang around photographers long enough and you’ll hear them talk about what’s important in the picture.  Since an image is a static thing, having just the right elements – and no more – in the frame is crucial to a great photo.  Rules of thumb, hearsay, myth, you name it – there are all sorts of ways to approach this aspect of composition.  The final judgement, though, is the photographer’s.  What’s in the photo is there because the photographer wanted it there.

Part of the psychology is about keeping the viewer’s eye in the frame of the image.  The longer you look at a photo the more about it you will see, which usually leads to looking longer for more interesting things.  With that, compositional elements that ‘block’ the eye from leaving the image are usually suggested.  But are they always necessary?

Consider the following:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYour basic autumn image.  For the second image I lowered my camera just enough to capture the next row of lighter color, essentially ‘blocking’ the lower edge of the image.  Does this indeed keep your eye in the photo?  In doing so, however, I lost the strip of white cloud visible at the top of the first image.  Was that keeping your eye in the image?  Does losing it now ‘open’ the top of the image?

My opinion is the lighter strip in the second image distracts from the subject, which is the colorful trees.  For me, the first image starts with a monochrome bottom, with horizontal strips leading my eye up to the trees.  Subtle as it is, the white strip at the top actually does halt my scanning and I return to the trees.  The bottom of the second image feels like a false frame that doesn’t really support the upper part of the image.

So, as the photographer, I prefer (and would display) the first image.  Which would you choose if it were your viewfinder?

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6 thoughts on “What to leave in, what to take out

  1. I’m pretty sure that I would choose the first view–the second image seems a little unbalanced with too much foreground and the sky seems too constrained. If I kept the sky the way it is in the second image, I might want to cur away about half of the green area and turn it into a panorama-style image. By the way, Mel, the colors of the trees in both images are gorgeous.

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