Photography: Thinking through a composition

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You may have heard composition guidelines like “the rule of thirds” or “don’t place the horizon down the middle of the frame”.  For me, composition is more nuanced.  Its about the placement of items within the frame, how they relate to each other, and more importantly, what should be excluded from the frame.  Below is an image that illustrates how I worked through a composition; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

At Nelson Ghost Town there is an old work bench full of stuff.  I’ve seen many amazing images of this work bench but have never successfully created one myself.  I find it difficult to make visual sense of all the chaos.  It is rich with color, texture, and shape.  Here is Peter’s recent documentation image to give you a sense of context:

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I began isolating interesting elements.  I started with the fishing basket, and while I liked it, ended up throwing it out because at the time, I didn’t see the distracting white piece of plastic behind it.  I zeroed in on the coffee pot, it had a lot of character.  I found a coffee can nearby and decided to create a scene.  In my first take, I was still messing with the placement of the can, and accidentally moved it during my long exposure.  My original placement of the can, in front, was too symmetrical and static.

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I took a couple of images at different apertures to focus the attention on the pot and minimize the attention on the messy background

Something was really bugging me at this point, and I started to focus in on the object on the right side of the frame that was barely poking in.  So I pushed it more in the frame.

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Nope, something was still off.  I decided it was the cardboard box right behind the coffeepot.  It was bright and distracting (and not very interesting)

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That item in the lower right was still really bothering me.  I decided to replace it with something more interesting and symbolically significant.  I took two images at different apertures.  My preference is the one with the blurred out background.

After messing with this for 20 minutes, I turned my attention to a different part of the work bench looking for something else to isolate.  The shapes, colors, and texture of the materials hanging on the back of the bench caught my eye.  I spent another 20 minutes trying to hone in the composition (I won’t bore you with all the images).

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