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Ideas About Landscape Composition By Tony Worobiec

Written By Peter Fortune

On the 6th March 2012 Tony gave a presentation to the Speakers Day and AGM of the RPS Landscape Special Interest Group held via Zoom. 137 members were in attendance and his presentation was thought provoking and full of ideas, some of which run counter to conventional thinking. This document represents a summary of his presentation.

The Rule of Thirds

Tony’s first point was perhaps his most unconventional. He said that he was not a great believer in the rule of thirds. This “rule” was first codified by John Thomas Smith in 1797 and for some it has become almost an absolute command. However Tony pointed out that artists rarely follow this rule. It is important to consider other issues and it usually make little sense to have a single element featured on the thirds. In his view other concepts have more value when composing a picture. He did make reference to The Golden Section, (which of course does have credence), but it is difficult to apply in photography.

The Golden Mean

For Tony the Golden Mean is a much more useful guide to photographic composition ie dividing the image in half either horizontally or vertically and balancing the elements of the each image each side of the mean. He suggested that one shouldn't be seeking to achieve perfect symmetry, but rather a subtle asymmetry. He urged the audience to look at their book designs or album covers to see how many designers and artists use this simple compositional principle. He also extolled the virtues of the square format, which works especially well if the constituent elements appear random and disorganised. It is as if the square format offers the discipline the composition otherwise lacks.

Counter Balance

If we are to ignore the so-called "rule of thirds" some might rightly ask what should we use instead? Tony reminded us that most pictures are often quite complicated, and that it can be useful to organise the constituent elements within in the picture in order to achieve a visual balance. The good news is that we don't need a "rule " to dictate this, as our inner vision naturally recognises when the elements are in balance; it is simply a matter of trusting our innate sense of design.

Texture

Another way of composing a picture to consider the visual elements such as tone, line, shape, form, colour and texture.

With a view to the latter Tony showed us many pictures taken by the sea and commented that it was important to think about the texture of flat surfaces which are enhanced by very low light. For example, wet sand looks far better when photographed predawn or at dusk. He also showed us a picture of the wet rocks at Kimmeridge bay, where the low lighting proved especially beneficial.

Light

Of course for a landscape photographer the quality of light is really important - the "Golden Hour" around dawn and the "Blue Hour after dusk offer particularly exciting lighting conditions. Tony also urged members if required not to be afraid of using a higher ISO rating. With modern DSLR cameras it is perfectly possible to ramp it up to 1000 or more, and providing you meter for the shadows, you shouldn't experience unacceptable levels of noise. With respect to composition, Tony also reminded the audience that the eye always goes to the part of an image with the greatest contrast, so be aware of the light.

Colour

Unless you are shooting monochrome, colour is the single most important of the visual elements. Certainly, having knowledge of the "colour wheel" and an understanding how complimentary colours react helps the photographer to temper the "mood" of the picture. Mindful of the colour wheel, be aware that opposite colours "compliment " one another, whereas adjacent colours harmonise. Each provide their own unique response in the viewer. It should be noted that white, black and grey are neutral colours and so they don't interfere with the dominant colours within the composition.

Some assorted issues that were covered by Tony’s talk.

• Images with odd numbers of main elements, 1,3, 5 or 7 tend to work better than those with even numbers of main elements.

• Leading lines take the eye into the image and can introduce a stronger sense of depth. Curving leading lines work equally as well as straight lines.

• Much ignored by some landscape photographers, but the moon can often add a certain "mystique" to certain locations. Also, it is important to understand how much light the moon can add to a nocturnal scenario.

• The sky can often prove to be a special ingredient within the landscape, offering a unique sense of texture and movement. Weather is also a vital ingredient to a successful landscape.

• Daytime cloudy skies appear subtly blue after sunset, so don't ignore the possibilities of shooting a landscape after dusk on a cloudy day.

• Most photographers process images in Lightroom, and elect to use Photoshop for the effects that Lightroom is not as good at, eg cloning and of course any process that requires layers.

• When deciding to convert an image to black and white, or to leave it in colour, one needs to look carefully at the " tonal values". If you think that the tones are the main visual ingredient, then it makes sense to convert your image to black and white.

• Always look for a different viewpoint - for example, when photographing a pier try looking underneath it, and not just settle for the conventional view.

About Tony Worobiec FRCS

After taking a degree in fine art specialising in Painting, Tony started a career in teaching and was for 18 years the head of a large Design faculty in Dorset. He left teaching in 2002 to concentrate on photography and writing, and has to date had 17 books published. Nearly 200,000 copies have been sold world wide. Many of his books have been translated into numerous languages. As a photographer he has exhibited in many locations throughout the UK, and regularly conducts courses throughout the UK and Ireland on a variety of photographic techniques. Moreover, he is currently a tutor with the highly prestigious MyPhotoSchool.

IDEAS ABOUT LANDSCAPE COMPOSITIONBYTONY WOROBIEC FRPS & PETER FORTUNE