The Importance of Learning Composition and Design

an excerpt from: NATURAL DESIGN : Image Design for Nature Photographers

anhingamaleAs I ponder the work of legendary nature photographers such as Watkins, Adams, and Porter, I find a common thread in their work: great image designs. They have an expert understanding of light, a mastery of their camera in order to capture that light, and they have great image designs.

One of the greatest composers of nature-based images today is John Shaw. He is world-renowned for his clean and simple yet bold and exciting compositions. He strips away the unnecessary to capture the essence of his subject and he creates powerful compositions that make his subjects sing. When I look at his work, I feel that his subjects are communicating with me. It is as if they have a story to tell. He gives a voice to his subjects; that is the mark of a passionate, skilled artist.

As an observer, you need not be versed in image design and composition to appreciate a great work of photographic art. You need not even understand the work or the subject matter to be moved or delighted by it, but it helps. Recognizing and understanding the subtleties of a design and the steps it took to achieve the final image can make the difference between a pleasant viewing experience and a meaningful, personal communication with the artist and/or the subject.

There are a few photographers who believe that learning about image composition and design should be reserved for painters, not photographers. To them I say, “Every photograph has a composition.” Yes, snapshot photography exists and it can be fun; but if you want creative control of your work, you need to understand the entire photographic process including how to design your images.

Image design can seem like a free-for-all when compared to the structured, scientific world of light and optics. But to deny an entire dynamic of photography because you are unfamiliar with it or because you deem it inapplicable or unimportant is to be like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. The first step to understanding image design is to understand composition.

an excerpt from: NATURAL DESIGN : Image Design for Nature Photographers

Revised August 2011
Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins