“To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravity before going for a walk. Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are the product of reflection.”
— Edward Weston
Composition in photography is a big topic.
Just what is “good” composition? Can it be defined by a set of rules? If it could, a camera company will put a program and some sensors into your camera and you won’t need to think about it anymore. We already have automatic exposure and automatic focusing . Just add automatic pointing and automatic zooming and automatic shooting and automatic developing (correcting color and contrast) and soon you can just send your camera out on its own and look at the pictures it posts on Facebook.
We think we like to have rules so we know if we are “doing it right”. What’s more important in creating art is how it “feels”. How do I feel when I look at a scene? How can I frame it and expose it and focus it, so that when I see it later on a monitor or in print, it still makes my soul breathe deeply. And what sweet added joy to know that someone else (such as, my wife!) may cry with joy when she sees the symbolism of the arrangement of all these captured and tweaked pixels, my vision in light of life.
In a class at the Morton Arboretum in DuPage County, Illinois called “Composition in Nature”, taught by Willard Clay, we discussed several rules that can be used in creating a composition in nature. These rules are more aptly called “tools” because it is always the artist’s decision and vision that determines when and what tools will or won’t be used in creating a composition.
The biggest rule — in art and in life — is to create what you love. The rules in composition are about creating an image in a two-dimensional rectangular pattern of pixels of colors and lights and shadows that results in lifting the soul of the viewer to experience beauty (or some other emotion). The rule in life is to breathe deeply in the beauty around us.