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Composition: The Creative Side (Part 1)

As for the first question – you don’t. You can’t move the elements in a landscape, the only thing that can move is you. It’s up to you, the photographer, to find a spot where the elements are in all the right places. To be able to do that, you need to learn to previsualize the image in your mind, how else will you know when you are in the right spot, after all?

This is what people refer to as the creative process. I usually spend at least an hour with my subject watching it from different angles, different distances, from a standing position or close to the ground, swap lenses and do it all over again with a different focal length. Only if I’m absolutely sure I’ll get the tripod up and start thinking about filters, settings and the like. If I can’t find a good composition the camera goes back into the bag and I only return if I have a new idea for an image (read: previsualization). This approach has served me well ever since.

That leaves question number two, which doesn’t have as straightforward an answer as the previous one.

For starters, when we refer to an image as “pleasing to the eye” we assume that it’s the eye that makes this distinction. That isn’t the case, however: It’s our brain that does the actual “seeing”, the eyes are just sensors in a manner of speaking.

The amount of information coming through these sensors is huge, if the brain were to look at each individual “pixel” it would take too much time to process that information and – in case of a potentially dangerous situation – we wouldn’t be able to survive for as long as we have. So how does the brain cope with this constant stream of information? It filters the data for relevant bits: Bright areas, shapes, areas with high contrast or sharpness, saturated colors and so on. Sometimes the brain goes overboard and makes us see things that aren’t actually there, these are known as optical illusions. For example, it connects dots to lines or curves, an effect which we will come back to later on.

There is no circle here.

It should become clearer now, what image composition is all about: By using all the right visual clues we can fool the brain into seeing something that isn’t there, make it move through the image on a predetermined path and arrive at a point of our choice – the so-called focal point.

If you’d like to see a practical example, check out my latest video:

We’ll go into more detail in Part 2.

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