“Finding a Composition”

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“If I knew how to take a good photograph, I’d do it every time.”
– Robert Doisneau

The most commonly discussed topic within photography, after gear, has to be composition. Over the last few months I have been looking into some of the ways other photographers are creating content around their work. One of these is through Youtube videos which vary from gear-centric/technique-centric to a more “follow along” style with the photographer in the field. In watching these photographers and their variety of styles and approaches to photography I came across something interesting that ran through almost every video I’ve seen thus far. The photographer would state their desire to “find a composition” or that they were going to “look for a composition”. While in no way am I looking to diminish the value that anyone finds in pursuing photography in their own way, I personally find this way of thinking completely absurd. A composition was constantly spoken of as something to find as if it is a set of parameters to locate. These parameters such as light, tone and form can all be used to create a photograph but they should in no way be used to dictate what to make photographs of. A photograph should be an expression of an experience, an experience not solely dictated by the limiting parameters of what we have seen or know to “photograph well” or of the rules and tools of photography.

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In looking for a composition, in looking for something that will “photograph well” you are seeing the world though a filter of limited possibilities. These possibilities are informed by your personal successes and failures with the camera as well as what you have seen made by others. Rather we should be spending time seeing and experiencing the world around us as we personally see. Experiencing our surroundings in a state of curiosity and discovery opening ourselves to the perceptions that call to our attention. Only then using the camera to express those visual experiences. An understanding of a particular perception will dictate the composition and all other photographic variables. Each technical or creative decision should fall in line with the intent of expressing that perception photographically. To go out into the world searching for a photograph is only to force your present personal experience to somehow fit into the past experience of someone else. I feel that this is one of the reasons failed images we make come back feeling so lacking. We have tried to force a scene in font of us into a composition, making an expression of something that is simply not there. A composition is something that is created and exists only after a photograph is made. It is not something to be searched out and found.

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