The Hunt for the Perfect Composition

Although perfect is in the eyes of the beholder….


Gazebo at Meadowlark Gardens

Technical – Nikon D300 RAW, Tokina 50-135 2.8 @ 70mm, 1/2 sec, f/22, ISO 200, Aperture Priority, Circular Polarizer, Center weighted metering, Cloudy WB, Tripod. I used the longer focal length to compress the scene somewhat otherwise the gazebo is looking a bit small at maybe 100 yards away; perspective is important.

Composition – My more or less standard approach (personal style)

  • Put something in the foreground, the bench
  • Add a framing device, the tree in this case
  • Subject off centered
  • A three layer landscape – fore, mid & background
  • Separation among the key elements (don’t overlap foreground element, frame, subject)
  • Fill & dominate the frame with the important “stuff”; leave no doubt as to the subject & story by avoiding extraneous material (less is more)
  • Eye is drawn first to the brightest sharpest object – great since that’s our subject, the gazebo
  • Triangular eye movement among the gazebo, bench & tree
  • I adjusted my position, angle, height and focal length to minimize the spacing among the three key elements – and for fine-tuning such as getting the base of the tree in the image rather than just a “chunk of trunk”

Post-process

  1. Capture NX2 (with Color Efex Pro plug-in) for RAW conversion and color & tonal contrast adjustments
  2. B&W Conversion in Silver Efex Pro 2  – just a minor adjustment to an existing SEP2 preset (less than 1 minute)
  3. Combine 1 & 2 using Photoshop’s luminosity blending mode for improved detail
  4. The above 3 steps are shown in the side-by-side below
  5. 3-4 minutes from start to finish

Click image to enlarge it

The change brought about by the third step is show below more clearly IF you click & enlarge it. The original image (left) is a bit flat by comparison.

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By the way, composition is 99.999% of the reason why I use a tripod – slow down, see, and make (in the end “teeny-tiny”) adjustments to the composition. Get it right in the camera – don’t throw away pixels that you paid good money for by routinely cropping in post-processing. To me, one of the most annoying (and common) comments that I hear at camera clubs – under the guise of a critique – “You should crop….“. Geez, Louise! And – the most annoying comment of all is the photographer who snaps away saying “I’ll fix it in Photoshop”! If you did your job right, the next thing eliminated from the picture space detracts from the final result AND anything added (while you were still on the scene) also detracts – so what’s this cropping crap but an acknowledgment that you didn’t get the job done right?

I circled the gazebo pond, starting at sunrise, and stopped at numerous spots in my quest for “perfection”. 😉  Here are some of my stops along the way. The first is the HDR from yesterday’s post. The rest are single exposures straight from the camera.

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You might not have noticed, but four of the five “landscape” compositions were shot in the portrait, not landscape, orientation. The one that wasn’t, the final one above, was the only one that was cropped – I cropped from 6×4 to 5×4 by taking an inch off the right as this view of the scene did not lend itself to a 3:2 aspect ratio. However, it did call for a horizontal orientation to support & emphasize the natural horizontal flow (eye movement) along the leading lines of the tree branch and the gazebo’s walkway. My personal style – three layers as described above under “Composition” – usually requires vertical although this next image which was a big prize winner shows that horizontal can work, too.

At the same competition, this next image took the top prize for monochrome prints – illustrating that both vertical & horizontal have their place.

If you don’t use a tripod and don’t have an L-bracket on your camera then you are less apt to try vertical orientations – even when you should. The lens that I was using for today’s feature image at the top of the post has a tripod collar which makes switching between landscape & portrait easy – just rotate the camera around the lens.

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If you like solving puzzles then you should be good at finding “perfect” compositions – which are just visual puzzles to be solved. Like most things, it just takes practice.

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1 thought on “The Hunt for the Perfect Composition

  1. Thank you Ed. There are lots of good tips on composition to be tried out at our next photo shoot,

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