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Photo Lesson 1: Understanding Composition Part 1: Pre-Visualization

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Of all the topics to begin with, I think a lesson in composition will be our best starting point because it encompasses most – if not all – the other photographic topics we’ll discuss.

So, let’s start with a definition for composition. For our purposes, composition has a threefold meaning: 1. The arrangement of subject and background; 2. The interaction of the subject with the background; and 3. The method of photographically capturing the subject, background and the interactions between them.

As you can tell from the definition, composition is a fairly big deal when it comes to making images.

For the most part, the average person who uses a camera doesn’t really consider composition. These are snapshot takers who use a camera for events: birthdays, holidays, family reunions, etc.

But if you’re here, you probably want to go beyond the snapshots and start making images that have a purpose.

This site is intended for amateurs who want to start making better images, advanced hobbyists who need a refresher and for students who want to further study photography as an academic discipline. With that audience in mind, let’s begin.

Start With Pre-Visualization
As with most things, the first step is often the most important and I can think of no other way to begin than with pre-visualization.

Photography is an art, a science and a form of communication. As a form of communication it is important to determine the message you want to convey through a photograph.

Do you want a portrait that conveys an emotion? If so, what emotion? Do you want a landscape that shows depth or one that shows vastness? Do you want a sports photo that shows action or one that shows the emotion of the game?

Once you figure out WHAT message you want to convey, then it’s all a matter of composing it.

Experiment 1: Guess the Emotion

Pre-visualizing the image helps you determine how you're going to compose it. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Pre-visualizing the image helps you determine how you're going to compose it. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

What emotion was I attempting to convey in this photograph? Some people will say sadness, loneliness, or that she is anticipating an event. Well, all would be right. This photograph didn’t start out as a posed photo. I saw my friend Vero sitting on the ground and I thought that it would make a nice image.
Then I saw her expression. She was, as usual, in a relaxed, contemplative mood so I wanted to express her emotion photographically.

This is where composition begins. You conceive the idea and then you decide how to capture it.

What’s Next?
In the next lesson, we’ll discuss the next step in composition: Tool selection. Good luck and keep shooting!

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Written by jeremyparce

February 18, 2009 at 1:52 am