Like most things in life, practice makes perfect and there's no doubt the more you are out and about taking photos, the more you improve your compositional skills. However, due to the busy lives we lead, keeping those skills honed throughout the year is a real challenge. For instance, before I turned professional, I remember the problems of working in an office during the day before heading for the hills (or coast) in the evening for landscape photography. This was fine in the summer months when days are longer but in the winter, this was a real challenge due to returning from work in the dark. Unless I wanted to do some night photography I had to wait for one of the two days I had off through the week to 'scratch the itch' of photography as well as try to keep my compositional skills honed! I, therefore, felt a little 'rusty' during the winter periods than the summer months. I'm sure this will resonate with a lot of fellow photographers.
Over the last few years, however, I've been using a technique which I can honestly say has honed and improved my compositional skills greatly and, more importantly, (when needed) quickly! So much so, that I've decided to share it with my readers so you can try it yourself whenever you've been unable to pick up your camera for a while (or simply want to hone your skills further).
This technique is based on a time trial. It's particularly useful because you only need around two hours of the day to go out with your camera (plus travel time). The challenge is based on abstract photography (it will, however, improve all your compositions), so you need to travel to a location where you can make a number of different images. That said, your garden or even objects around your home would be ideal subjects for this exercise.
The challenge is, that, after arriving at my location, I impose a timescale along with a pre-determined number of images I must take within that timescale as well as restrict myself to one focal length. I generally attempt to create around eight to ten images in two hours. This, of course, will vary depending on ability and location but your 'hit rate' should increase the more you do it. I also set myself a 'quality' goal meaning the compositions I look for must be very good indeed (i.e. so good I would be willing to share the images with others or put them on my website) and when I eventually get round to taking the image each one must be technically as good as I can make it.
It's not as easy as it may sound because you have to concentrate hard for a long period of time (the very thing that will heighten your compositional skills). This can be tiring but I promise you that if you take up my 'Compositional Time Challenge' and do it as often as you can, you really will see an improvement in all your photographic compositions - especially when time is against you.
Paradoxically, I would like to add that, in my opinion, the art of landscape photography is not about speed. Indeed, for me, it's quite the opposite. I actually like to slow down and take my time - sometimes even finding myself in a meditative state. The exercise above is to help hone your compositional skills when you have had little time to photograph (or when you want to improve your current skills further). So that when you find yourself in that wonderful moment, particularly when timing is critical (around sunrise/sunset for instance), that your mindset and skillset are all heightened to help you achieve the best composition/s you can.
If you would like to learn more about the above exercise I still have a couple of places remaining on my 'Composition Series: Abstracts' one day photography workshop at South Gare near Redcar on July 16th. Full details can be found here >>
Here are some examples of images I have taken using the compositional time challenge (Click an image for full-screen view).
A series of abstract images I took over a two-hour period on a lovely evening at South Gare near Redcar in summer 2021 using only my 50mm Zeiss lens.
All taken during a recent holiday with my wife to the Outer Hebrides, I made a promise that I'd be back at the car in two hours! This was the result (all focus-stacked) using my 50mm lens.
I found this beautiful sculpture near St.Paul's Cathedral, London one night. As I was with a fellow photographer I only had around an hour to make these images using my 100mm Samyang lens.