Learn Composition by Studying the Works of Contemporary Artists
The rules of composition that artists and photographers use, even today, were developed by artists in the 16th century. These guidelines include, but are not limited to:
Rule of thirds
Use of HDR
If you do any reading about photography composition, you will come across the suggestion to study the works of the Old Masters. An article that I have found particularly useful is “Five Things Photographers Can Learn from the Old Masters of Painting,” written by Jake Hicks for Petapixel. We should all definitely study the Old Masters. But there is a more immediate way to study day by day for those of us on Instagram and that is by following and really looking at and thinking about the posts by the talented artists we have in our community.
One of the artists that I follow is Simona Ruggeri. I like her work so much that I had three of her water colors shipped across the Atlantic. They made me smile when I saw them on Instagram. I still smile each time I see them displayed in my house.
Simona is so generous with her observations about photographer’s posts. I learn a lot from her comments. But I also study her posts. Let’s look at this one to see what a photographer can learn from a contemporary artist.
First of all, I am totally untrained in the principals of art. I find Simona’s pencil drawings a particularly helpful place to study composition because b&w composition is always more straight forward than color composition. For this reason, I have chosen a pencil drawing. However, much of her work is in color. You can see her online gallery at www.studioeraarte.it and her Instagram gallery at @simonaruggeri.
Here are my take-aways from the mermaid and the seahorse.
Surprise your viewer. I love the whimsical, magical creatures that live through Simona’s artwork. It is not every day we get to see someone pointing out the way to a seahorse. For photographers, this is called “irregular content”. It is not easy to find, either as a photographer or a viewer of photography, but it is a prize when you find it.
I was delighted to find this “irregular content” picture, taken by Jason Foster at a Harley Davidson dealership that was having a car show next door. You can see Jason’s work on Instagram @wdn_dog. He also sells vintage film cameras on Etsy. You can see them on his Instagram gallery at @retro.rascal which also includes a link to his Etsy page.
Fill the frame and provide lots of ways to move the eye through it. Simona uses all kinds of lines in her pictures, but she is the particular master of curved lines. Including curved lines in art is a bit like using backroads instead of the interstate when you are on vacation. We call it the scenic route for a reason.
My Instagram and real life friend, Jason D. Little, is a NYC photographer and writer for Lightstalking. I have seen many pictures of this beautiful lady, who is his wife, but this one is my hands down favorite. Jason has filled the frame and provided many soft curves for our eyes to move around the picture. You can see Jason’s Instagram digital gallery at @jdevaunphotography and his film gallery at @halide.hustle. You can see his portfolios, projects and blog at https://www.jdevaunphotography.com.
Use repetition and pattern as a compositional tool. Humans like repetitions and patterns. They draw our attention, in part, because they provide a way for us to connect things. They can add dimension and dynamism. Patterns, which are a large quantity of repetitions, are a way to compensate for excess negative space. In Simona’s drawing, the curl of the seahorse’s tail and the curl of the mermaid’s finger are delightful repetition. Lines that form sharp points are repeated in the points of the mermaid’s collar and ear and the seahorse’s eye, fingers and scales. There are texture patterns in the mermaid’s dress and scales.
Texture can add an important layer of interest to a composition. It can also bring life to an otherwise flat composition. The texture Simona uses certainly adds interest for me but even more important, it adds a sense of depth.
The picture below, taken by Teresa and posted on her Instagram account at @tsllivinasallent, is a good example of how much interest texture can add to a photograph. Imagine this same picture without the benefit of the letters as a foreground. The repetition of the viewers also contributes interest for me.
If you are on Instagram, follow an artist. Study their posts to understand how they build their compostions.