Conquer Composition

Text And Photography By Adam Barker
A hiker soaks in the spectacular view of Dead Horse Point at first light. Proper subject placement is key to engaging and holding the viewer’s attention.
There’s a reason why so many people in this world enjoy picking up a camera and capturing the magic that lies in front of them. We all see in our own unique way, and when executed correctly, this individualistic vision is manifest in magical, memorable imagery that transcends all else and exposes our inner workings as landscape and active-lifestyle photographers. This vision comes forth through the way we compose a scene. I believe composition to be the most unadulterated expression of who we are as photographers and visual artists. Technique can be taught and equipment can be bought, but vision is singular. It’s how we see as individuals.

Composition is an intricate balance between the inclusion, exclusion and arrangement of diverse subject matter and other rudimentary elements within the photographic frame. Just as shutter speed and aperture form the technical foundation for each image we produce, well-executed composition is the creative glue that holds our images together.

Layers of fall color abound in Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon. Search for layering components within your frame when shooting longer-lens landscapes. A well-composed image will exhibit the following:
The inclusion of key elements within the frame that send a clear and concise message to viewers.
These key elements should be those parts of the image that both draw the viewer in and retain or hold his or her attention.

The exclusion of all other elements or parts of the image that may detract from the key elements.
These elements are beyond secondary in nature and can be manifest in anything that consciously or subconsciously distracts the viewer from cycling smoothly through the visual journey of each image.

The proper arrangement or balance of primary and secondary subject matter within the photographic frame.

Dynamic Composition
Our greatest challenge in photography is to transport the viewer “there.” Where is there? It’s Yellowstone National Park in the winter with crisp, early-morning light and bugling elk. It’s an aquamarine waterfall in a paradisiacal locale, cascading ever so gently over travertine pools and under lush jungle canopy. It’s perched on the edge of vermillion cliffs, overlooking a vast otherworldly expanse of grottos, plateaus and canyons. Are you getting the picture?

Our perception of reality is based upon depth and dimension, and that’s the largest obstacle we must overcome in capturing a three-dimensional wonder and placing it in a two-dimensional medium. It can be done by finding three-dimensional compositions that create the feeling that one could step right into our photographic frame.

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