Understanding Composition

I have been marking assignments from students that have done my Advanced module on wildlife photography that I wrote for the Photography institute. Over the past few months I have connected with past students on social media and we have kicked up discussions around composition and creativity. If you been following my social feed (especially Instagram @etienne_oosthuizen) over that period you would have noticed I have been sharing a lot of my insight into creative compositions.

Something that has come up over and over in that period is this idea that to be creative means that you have to be different. That is not the case at all and if you follow that philosophy you may be different. It may have a negative impact on your photography.

Creativity with control

One of my great frustrations in photography is the idea that compositional rules will help you be creative. The problem I find with this is that if you follow the rule of thirds, rule of lines, rule of odds and so on. They create a prescription that you have to use them all the time when you are composing a photograph. This will limit your creative process to a cookie cutter mentality. If you only have one or a few kinds of cookie cutting shapes and no matter what type of biscuit you are making they will all be limited to the shapes available to you. Same for your images and how you compose them.

Now I encourage people to “make cookies with their hands” and free style their composition for their wildlife photography. However if you don’t grasp the basics of structure and form of composition. Your images will lack this structure and form. I do hope I have not lost you between the cookies and the photography, hahaha.

Compositional Tools to help with Structure & Form

So basically there needs to be some sort of structure to a photograph. This is where a lot of people ultimately get it very wrong when they believe that revolting against the rules means being different and being different means being creative. Thats not the case here.

Creative compositions are about understanding the role of structure and form. Using these in a creative ways to compose your images. So compositional rules should be seen as compositional tools, and the more tools in your tool box the more options you have. So certain scenes in wildlife photography require certain compositional tools. Other tools will work, however they may not be as effective. All this would be dependent on the story that your photographs need to tell …


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