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"Tell me and I forget.
Teach me and I remember.
Involve me and I learn."

~ benjamin Franklin

Testimonials

He is one of the best educators I have ever worked with, regardless of discipline…I will come back in a heartbeat, to take other workshops at the gallery that Mr Banks is conducting.”

~ Mr R Fosler, Massachusetts, USA

 

"I just wanted to thank you once again for the Robin Hood’s Bay course last week. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but more than that I left with a far greater confidence in my compositional abilities, and a decent basic knowledge of Lightroom. The location, accommodation and organisation were first rate, and your maxim of always considering the composition and only later considering whether you could pull it off resounded."

~ Mr N Farrimond, UK

Welcome to the 2nd part of my Practical Photography tutorials - Composition.

Composition is and should be subjective to you the individual. Although a workshop leader can advise about composition and the technicalities that surround it, it is important that your own individual style is nurtured so that you ultimately make images that please you and not necessarily others. Therefore, this section doesn’t (nor shouldn’t) explain how to compose an image but gives advice on how best to nurture your own vision in order to create a successful composition.

Landscape Photography Tutorials by Mark Banks - Composition

Focus your mind

It is very easy to get excited about arriving at a destination and simply wanting to get your camera out and start shooting, particularly so if you’re out with a group of friends or on a photography workshop. Giving yourself a little extra time will help you with all aspects of your landscape photography (see further details about 'Time - or lack of it' in the 4th part of these tutorials). Landscape photography is probably the only photographic genre where slowing down can help with composition.

My ABC of Composition

First, let’s start with my ‘ABC of Composition’. If you’ve ever been on one of my workshops you will know that I try to help by using useful mnemonics, tips and tricks to make things easier to remember. My ABC of Composition is the first of these.

A = Anticipate: Learning to anticipate weather, light, movement and so on is one of the biggest keys to making successful landscape images more often. Initially, this may involve a simple study of the local weather forecast so that you choose a location that fits with the kind of photography you would like to make. However, you may wish to adjust the kind of photography you make according to the forecast for a given location. Either way, work with the weather and not against it. Once at your location, try to anticipate weather, light, movement and, to be frank, anything else you think will help you make a successful image so that you return more often with successful images.

B = Balance: Although I believe there are no rules in photography, I do believe a well balanced image is key to its success. That doesn’t mean that your image should be symmetrical of course but that the components that make up your image have rhythm, flow and are generally balanced with each other to make a more pleasing composition. Asymmetry also plays its part though by creating a tension within the image, so be aware of this. Balance isn’t just about components within the image but may also be about light, colour, movement as so on. An unfiltered sky for instance is likely to be much brighter than the ground and therefore may distract from the overall balance of an image. This is where graduated filters or multiple exposures come in handy - as well as a basic understanding of using an image editor like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop/Elements or Capture One to hold back the light when it is too dominating. There may be times when you need to emphasise light within the image too, of course.
Colour is another element that must have balance for it not to distract from the overall feeling of an image. Some colours may need desaturating or saturating according to your taste and vision to help with balance.

C = Consider: When you have finally composed your image, consider the image in its entirety to make sure it agrees with your vision (the reason why you decided to take the image in the first place). Consider all the components within your image so that they are balanced as mentioned above. Inspect all the areas of your image including around the perimeter of your image (using the eye-piece of your camera or live view on the back of the screen) so that you don’t have any unwanted components like branches or litter straying into your image for instance.

Connect

Once at your location it is important not to rush around trying to find an image. Consider slowing down and take a more methodical approach to your photography. Appreciate what's around you and try to connect with the landscape - be a part of it. Take time to wander, clear your head, listen, feel, watch, think.

Let’s examine these points individually:

Wander: Once you’ve reached your destination take time to wander around the area to check fully all the options available to you. Be curious - “what’s over that hill”?  “What’s around that corner”?

Clear your head: In order to be receptive to the landscape it’s important to have a clear head. Try to forget your everyday worries and relax. Even try slowing your breathing and enjoy the scenery (breathing exercises can be useful here).

Listen: We tend to take for granted the sounds we hear when in the countryside. This might be because it’s usually quiet compared to where we might live or work for instance. Therefore, take the time to tune in and listen to birds in trees, the wind blowing through tall grass, the pitter patter of rain and so on. This can all help in connecting with the landscape and using a sense that you might otherwise dismiss as irrelevant.

Feel: Touch is another sense that I think we take for granted and yet it’s one of the most fundamental senses that connects us with the landscape. Feeling the rain on our skin stirs an emotional response within us (no matter whether it’s a positive or negative response). The breeze through your hair and clothes, the cold or warmth of the surrounding temperature and so on. These all stir emotions that are likely to determine your emotional response to a composition.

Watch: I think this is one sense we don’t take for granted - but looking can be different from seeing. Planning a composition sometimes requires forward thinking - an assumption if you like. For instance by spotting a cloud that is being carried by the wind into your composition ten minutes prior to doing so can be very useful. So can waiting and watching for a vehicle or person to wander out of your image before pressing the shutter (or for that matter into the image) as this can make or break a successful composition. Watching when the right wave combination comes along if you’re on a beach etc.. all adds up to being receptive to the landscape.

Think. Take time to think about the reason for taking an image. How good is it really?  Have you taken into account and identified all the elements within the image? Have you looked around the perimeter of the image for any stray branches, twigs, bright or dark areas, etc.. that may distract?

Learn more

If you've enjoyed reading Mark's tutorials and would like to learn more why not consider a one day practical or post-production workshop on a one-to-one basis with Mark. Alternatively, Mark runs several group workshops every year in some of the most beautiful places in the UK. Take a look on the 'Tuition' page for a full list of workshops currently available or contact Mark by e-mail - info@markbanksphotography.com for available dates.