April 24, 2018

Decisions on Composition

Decisions on Composition

Coronado Bridge Aerial View

Coronado Bridge Aerial View

This photo was recently shared on Facebook, and only afterwards I realized that it will serve as a great reference to illustrate the decision-making process in composition.

I think I have mentioned this before: The science of composition is a subject that can be studied, and anybody can learn how to apply the rules of composition to his/her own images in order to enhance it, and make it more pleasing and understandable to the viewer. A long sentence, but powerful content!

The bridge, with its natural curve served a triple purpose:

In the first place it forms the lead-in to the photograph. It leads the eye from the left bottom of the image, right through to the right, and then stretching into the upper half. Because the bridge goes from left to right, filling the width of the photo, there is very little negative space towards the right-hand side.

It is used to frame the photo at the bottom, and the right.

Most important, it is the main object. Everything evolves around the bridge. The more purpose a subject has, the stronger it becomes, and the more the eye will focus on it.

The city-scape in the background subconsciously becomes an object in itself, but sub-ordinate to the bridge. The bridge leads the viewer to the city. If I would have excluded the sky from the photo, the city would have become the background, and the bridge would just disappear in the background. Now the bridge fulfills a purpose by leading the eye to the city-scape.

In western culture, we read from left to right. Therefore the eye is trained to go from left to right. That is why the bridge is used to lead the eye from the left to the right, and up. If the bridge was flipped horizontally, i.e. lead-in from right to left, all the water would have formed a negative space. Now it is not.

The anchored sailboats, forming a diagonal line, forms an imaginary line, starting from the top left of the photo, and leading to the bridge.

The boat in the middle left, heading towards the bridge also tends to lead the eye in that direction. If the boat was going the opposite way, it would have had a negative impact on the composition by leading the eye from right to left, and away from the bridge.

The arch formed by the top of the helicopter’s dash (bottom right) replicates the arch of the bridge in the opposite direction, thus mimicking the flow. If it wasn’t there, there would have been a negative space.

By splitting the photo in three horizontal lines (water in the front, city in the middle, and sky at the top), a setting is created that is much more pleasing to the eye. People, by nature finds uneven numbers of objects more pleasing than even numbers.

Diagonal lines, parabolas, and horizontal lines were used to support the composition as a whole.

Submit your own photos for critique

I want to extend an open invitation to everyone who wants me to comment on the composition in their own photos to send it to me. It will then discuss on this blog-site. In the process we all will learn from it. Photos can be sent to photos@fcschwartz.com. Just a few rules, it must be family friendly, and by submitting the photos you grant permission that the material may be used for training purposes, digitally, in print or any other media.

Take Your Photography to the Next Level: Camera Settings


Mala Boat Ramp in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii | Photographer Rene Swart / FC Schwartz Photography

Mala Boat Ramp in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii | Photographer Rene Swart / FC Schwartz Photography

Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Maui in Hawaii. This photo of the old dilapidated pier was taken at the Mala boat ramp in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.

The deteriorated and rusted ruins falling into decay just asked to be photographed.

It was a bright and sunny day and the photo could easily be overexposed. As can be witnessed in the photo on the left.

Bracketing was used to capture the photo, and I used the overexposed photo as an example what can be done if the maximum possible amount of data is recorded by the camera.

In digital photography, this is where everything starts. The collection of data in the camera. The camera doesn’t actually take a picture. It collects data and then converts the data into a picture. So, the more data is available, the more the camera can do to convert it into a picture.

If you take your pictures in RAW, as I do, the camera does not convert the data into a picture. The data is transferred from the camera to your editing device, normally your computer or laptop, where the conversion takes place via your conversion software (Lightroom, Capture One, etc.). Again, the more data your conversion software has available, the more detail can be extracted. I always stand amazed on how much data is hidden from the naked eye.

The method I use to capture my data in camera, produces an unflattering image. I know that beforehand. I am hesitant to show my RAW images as people may think I’m the worst photographer they ever met (maybe that is true).

In photography school they teach you to do it right in the camera. In the bygone film days it meant that you had to get the photo as picture perfect as possible. In the digital era it means that you have to capture the biggest amount of data to work with afterwards.

Once you understand this principle, you’re on your way to take great pictures!

Now for the crux. How do I set my camera?

  1.  RAW
  2. Color space: Adobe RGB. sRGB will give you a more vivid initial picture but with a smaller color gamut than Adobe RGB.
  3. NO in-camera contrast as this will also limit the amount of data (or detail) that can be recorded.
  4. NO in-camera image sharpening. I’ll do some initial sharpening during RAW conversion, but the bulk of sharpening is the last step in my workflow.
  5. I leave my white balance setting on auto. I find that, in about 95% of scenarios the camera’s interpretation of light is quite good. Because I shoot in RAW, I can always correct the white balance afterwards.

As a result of applying the above settings, enough data was available in the image on the left to produce the one on the right.

Even if you shoot in jpeg, you can apply the above principles. Just be more careful on the in-camera setting for white balance, as it is more difficult to correct a wrong light interpretation with your software when shooting jpeg.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further enquiries.

Gone Fishin’

What attracted me to this night scene on the Ocean Side beach in San Diego was the abandoned chair. With nobody in site, it was the lead-in to an almost vertical line to the end of the pier.

The shore-line left to right, the line from right to left with the anchor poles penetrates the water surface and then the pier itself from left to right forms a an s-curf.

I just loved it!