Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Composition As Composition

We can learn from music when it comes time to setting out the composition of our images. Think of the symphony. Either it starts out slowly, building tension quite quickly to an exclamation point, or it actually starts with a bang. The composer knows that he has a limited time to get our attention - get too tricky and the audience is lost in the first few bars, make a clear statement, provide a simple melody, capture the interest and often you can develop the theme all you want after.

Symphony compositions seem to tell a story - starting out happily enough, then sadness and depression, followed by struggle and sucess, finally to finish with an even bigger bang than was at the beginning. Mind you, the latter may not be necessary in a photograph since the end is dictated by the viewer wandering off and we hardly need to provide a visual bang to tell them when it's time to cough, clap or get up.

A piece of music that is complex, sophisticated and tricky right from the beginning isn't good at grabbing attention. Pieces like this tend to be appreciated by people who already recognize the genious of the composer and don't need a showy and simple start to lead them in and people who don't need to be able to hum the tune after the show.

Since these people tend to be in the tiny minority, pieces like this tend to be fillers between big bang music to satisfy the masses. So it is with photography, you can get away with the occasional complex subtle less readable photograph if you lead people to it and if you have no great expections of universal approval.

So, an image needs to be easy to understand right from the beginning. It can offer sophistication in it's subtle details and it wouldn't hurt if it told a bit of a story - in the sense of the classic tragedies and comedies going back to ancient Greece.

1 comment:

Pete said...

I knew it!! It's not my bad composition, it's just the viewers are on a lower intellectual plane compared to that of the image. Brilliant!

I just need to 'dumn down' my composition.

Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.


PS I've recently bought the book and I'm enjoying it greatly.