Most photographers may disagree with me when I state that reducing composition to the so called “rule of thirds” is over-simplifying the process. Composition, in my honest opinion, is about BALANCING SHAPES THAT HAVE A “VISUAL WEIGHT”. This is an example of a picture I took in Segovia (Spain) that doesn’t follow that rule and, at least in my opinion, is well composed. I will try to explain how I did arrive to this composition. If you have other opinions, please let me know in the comments… we can talk about it.
[dropcap]Segovia[/dropcap] is a beautiful town not far away from Madrid and is very well known because the Romans built there on the 2nd Century AD an Aqueduct that some people say (do not know if it is true) the biggest Roman construction 100% standing (ok, the Colosseum is bigger, but maybe 40% is on the ground!)
I do not know if this statement is true, anyway it is a stunning monument, and maybe due to its monumental size it is so difficult to photograph… even using an extreme wide angle, you cannot photograph it all, so you have to try to look for other alternatives: a possibility is to focus in only one section that can represent all the construction.
I was in the city working on a reportage about the Jews in the old times of Segovia… ok, the Aqueduct had little to do with the Jews, but anyway wanted to go back home with the best picture I could get about the monument, so begun to explore it from different position and with different light conditions.
During the afternoon some dark clouds had covered the sky. They produced a soft, shadow-less light, usually not very useful for architecture, but although in advance it would have been hard to say, that soft light was going to work for my picture.
Under the monument, in the center you could photograph nothing. All the stones were above me, ‘too near’… and if I went further away the view became the ‘cliche’ picture that all the tourists take back home when they leave the city. It was a too easy and boring composition.
So I decided to take a look from both extremes (or corners) of the monument, which are separated 800m. The look was especially beautiful from one of the extremes using a very long tele-photo lens. So I set my tripod up and mounted the Nikkor 80-200 2.8 AF with a duplicator 2x.
I liked the composition: a repeating pattern of stone textures and arches repeated in a rhythmic way. It was so nice that I decided to give the arches 85% of the space of the frame surface. On the right there was a straight street covered with cobblestone that provided a counterpoint to the arches. It is always better to try to provide a counterpoint because both shapes properties mutually reinforce each other: the repeating arches and the plain cobblestone street.
I liked the composition, but something that gave the viewer a sense of scale was missing, so decided to wait a bit for someone whose shilouette set the scale. In his case it was a woman that went up the street.
Here is an important tip: Ask yourself: “What do I like of this image?” In my case it was the rhythmic repetition of the huge mass of stone, so I gave it nearly all the space in the frame, leaving just the minimum space to the corner and woman, who had a secondary utility to set the scale, and the straight that was a counterpoint to the repetition. If you have something you like in the composition, GIVE IT SPACE. That’s in my opinion the best way to compose a picture.
I could turned right the tripod head, including more of the street and some houses, but it complicated the scene. This is a typical case in which ‘less is more’: if you add too many subjects/objects to the picture, you may dilute your compositional statement.
[pullquote]“What do I like of this image?” In my case it was the rhythmic repetition of the huge mass of stone, so I gave it nearly all the space in the frame, leaving just the minimum space to the corner and woman...[/pullquote]
I had two possibilities where I could focus the camera: the person or the stones on the left. I decided that this was a picture of the Aqueduct so the stones were more important and I focused on them, leaving the pedestrian a bit out of focus.
[dropcap]Just[/dropcap] another note. This picture is very hard to take without a tripod. The combo camera body plus 80-200 2.8 plus duplicator can be around 2 kilograms (4 pounds), too heavy to maintain in horizontal position by hand for a long period of time. In addition, a small movement of your wrist with a 600mm lens produces a huge movement on the composition… that is why I always carry my tripod with me, because I know sooner or later I am going to miss a picture if I do not carry it.
The soft light simplified the scene. With direct sunlight the stone textures would have been emphasized, but
the mixture of lights entering the arches and shadows would have made the picture too complex. Overcast light was ok.
Regarding composition, it clearly does not follow the ‘rule of thirds’. I’d like to ask to all my readers:
Do you believe that using the rule of thirds the picture would be better composed? If so, how could I use it to improve my composition?
Do you have a picture you’ve taken in a similar situation?
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