When I took my first course on photography, one of the first concepts I latched onto was the way that objects in the frame related to each other. I focused a lot on what sort of tension or harmony existed between my subject and the other prominent objects in the scene. This is just one of many aspects of composition, and it’s probably one of the most obvious aspects for beginners. But just because it’s one of the most obvious doesn’t mean it’s simple or is quickly mastered.
I’ve expanded my understanding of composition over the years, but I still focus a lot on the organization of elements and the shapes they make with their arrangement. It’s probably because I’m such a math nerd, but I love playing with shapes and geometry of the scene. I notice that when I shoot in black and white, I tend to do a much better job of deliberately framing the scene in a geometric way. I think it’s easier to see those abstract elements of the composition when you’re already abstracting from the reality you’re seeing with your eyes by eliminating color.
“This recognition, in real life, of a rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is for me the essence of photography; composition should be a constant of preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition – an organic coordination of visual elements.”Henri Cartier-Bresson
Today’s photo isn’t exactly a pinnacle of composition, but it does have some strong geometry. A horizon line of sorts is established horizontally with the negative space of the dark shadow. While I don’t have anything along the baroque or sinister diagonals, I do have reciprocal diagonals leading from the bottom left corner to the top mid-left and the bottom right corner to the top mid-right (the lines made by the sun going up the stairs). And then there’s another reciprocal (ish) leading from the top left to the bottom mid-left. That final example also serves as a leading line to draw the attention to Herman’s adorable face (not as though we needed any leading lines to draw our our attention to that face…).
In a photo like this with harsh lines created by the strong light/shadow contrast, seeing these lines is straightforward. And that straightforwardness is what prompted me to pick up my camera and take a few shots rather than just give Herman a few scratches on my way back up to my office. But I’m always on the lookout for less obvious shapes when I’m out photographing, and thinking in black and white tends to help with that search.