Story and Photography by Kelly Funk
When we think about the compositional value of an image there are certain phrases that immediately come to mind, such as rule of thirds or element arrangement. There’s nothing wrong with these phrases, but when it comes to the creation of an image, there’s much more that can and should go into composing. Composition sets the tone for a finished image that can garner a very strong reaction from the viewer, helps tell the story that the photographer is trying to get across and can make the difference between a captivating image or a confusing one.
So, how then can we take that next step, the one that navigates us toward inspirational imagery and away from a mere mechanical approach? The answer is it will come in the form of an instinctual, creative balance and by really concentrating on how that balance orchestrates itself in the frame. When I say balance, that’s exactly what I mean when looking through the viewfinder — something that feels weightless if you will, has different elements that contain different merits, but has equal weight throughout the image. In order to illustrate the above points, I’ll use the supplied images to describe in detail the basis for this concept.
Image 1: Kicking Horse River
and Cathedral Mountain, at sunset
There are large aspects of composition as well as finite ones in this image. When constructing this shot it was important for me to show the high altitude cloud at last light as well as the detail in the Kicking Horse River. You’ll notice I replicated the river’s white water in the lower right with the clouds. This was done both for balance and impact. Repetition is a great way to add interest, and in this case it also worked very well for balance. You’ll also see that the bottom left and top right have large areas with less detail in the sky and water, also noted in my viewfinder, which adds to that balance. Finally, the small rock in the lower right and the detailed clouds in the top left finish off the image, going corner to corner. My starting point during the composition phase was rough balance, seen without the camera. I get a sense for what I want to do by leaving the camera in my bag and simply seeing first; this is my inner balance. The details on what I spoke of above come in the fine tuning of the image while looking through the viewfinder. Exploring, seeing and finally fine tuning.
Image 2: Cultured flowers
I went to our local university gardens specifically to find flowers to use in this article. As in image 1, I simply put my bag in a safe place and walked until I found something I liked. I almost always do this as it seems to lessen the pressure to shoot right away, allowing me to get creative without feeling overwhelmed. These particular flowers caught my attention because of their natural layout and also the depth they portrayed. I love using depth because it adds so many elements and layers. I won’t lie, this image took a while to compose! I wanted an anchor flower and that, of course, is the one in the middle left. Once again I used corner balance with two of the second largest flowers, top left and bottom right, paying very close attention to the flower recessed in the middle, along with the two smallest ones due to the fact that this arrangement helped offset the weight of the largest flower. I also didn’t let those three middle flowers touch because I felt it would add confusion. Once again, exploring, seeing and intuitively fine tuning using inner balance.
Image 3: Kamloops Lake at sunset
Larger scenes come easier for me; I’m not sure if it’s the norm or a personal thing. This scene was a last-minute directional change for light and I had literally two minutes to compose. This was almost wholly instinctual and through the viewfinder — not how I like to approach my images, but sometimes you have to work with what you have in a limited timeframe. I used the heavy rock foreground to anchor the image with benign colours and then felt my way through the process by balancing out the heavier mountains and long, colourful clouds with the centre burst area and shorter cloud lines on the right. Along with the two standalone deep green trees, I felt I had done everything I could in the short time I had to try and tell a story using composition and light. Sometimes time-sensitive image creations fail and we’re left with something we’re not entirely happy with. But with practise, speed improves!
By using the methods described, combining personal style, basic rules of composition and, most importantly, our inner sense of balance, we can negate those less emotive shoots and almost always come away with something inspiring, making us want to do it all over again tomorrow.
To read more of this issue please pick up the Fall/Winter 2016 (#39) issue of OPC. Or to never miss an issue please SUBSCRIBE today!