Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When Don't We Need Strong Composition?

Are there any circumstances in which composition isn't necessary and if so, what are they?

I don't think there is any image that couldn't or wouldn't be better if it were strongly composed. That said, there are a number of images in which other factors are more important than careful use of edges, leading lines, interesting use of negative space and so on.

The expression on a naughty child might well far outweigh any benefits from careful composition. In some images, colour is the overwhelmingly important element of the image and everything else comes secondary. A black and white image may have some wonderful tones which don't form any logical pattern or sequence yet are sufficiently strong to make composition of secondary importance.

Whether any of the above images would be even better if in addition to all its strengths it were strongly composed too is uncertain. For sure if you have two images of equal merit in other ways, then I'd select the strongly composed one every time. I can't think of any examples in which a strong composition interfered with the enjoyment of other aspects of an image - though I'd be interested in your thoughts on this. Often though, the circumstances are such that the great colour only comes without composition and if I insisted on strong composition, then the image wouldn't be. In capturing kids, often it's all you can do to catch the moment, never mind the composition, but Cartier Bresson sure managed it - by working on the composition first then waiting for the subject to place them selves just so - a matter of skill and perseverance and organization.



ilachina said...

Here's a thought (that I'd love for you to expand on), in the category of "when perfect composition is NOT enough" (!) ;-) I was in Borders earlier today and saw a new version of the "Adams in Color" book, first published ~ 1993 (and selected by H. Callahan). While the color reproductions are much better than in the original edition, and they *are* after all by Ansel himself (no critique of composition even remotely possible), there is *still* something lacking. They lack the "Ansel touch" of tonality and drama and presence that his BW work had in spades. The subject matter is the same (which is perhaps the problem?), the compositional style is the same, but....what? Composition here, while arguably close to perfect, is *not* enough. I'd love to hear your thoughts. And if you haven;t yet seen either the older book or the new edition, do check it out, if only to browse to get a "sense" of Ansel in color.

Mark said...

Composition is something I've been struggling with lately ... I find myself frozen looking through the lens trying to arrange things just so... I do believe it is vital to a good image ... I just wish it would come together easier ... Emotion is also key in music, nothing good happens in art without an emotional investment...