A very simple question posed by reader Eric Slater in an email following a recent post has had me thinking rather a lot about my own photography, what works in my images and why. I'm not huge on introspection but I thought I'd give it a go.
I'd mentioned that I drive through the countryside looking for elements that will give "structure" to a photograph. Eric picked up on this and asked if I could explain what I meant by structure.
Well, that kind of threw me a bit because, off the top of my head, I couldn't. I instantly know it when I see it but describing it is a different matter. I've since reached the conclusion that it all boils down to composition. A lot of my photographs have something that leads the eye into the scene with, ideally, something worth looking at in the background that represents the end of this 2D journey.
It's this that hits me between the eyes when I'm out and about in the car. Quite often I'll glance to the side, have a quick look in the rear view mirror and then slam on the brakes as I've just seen something that will make a photograph work. It's as quick as that and can be quite alarming for Cath if she's beside me at the time!
Now, not all of those quick glances result in a good photograph but enough of them do for me to quite happily follow my instincts. The pic above of Craigowl, a hill north of Dundee with some communications towers on it, is a good demonstration of the type of thing I look for.
The brightness of the wet road immediately catches the eye and the viewer is led right into the scene and up to the comms mast standing out against the sky. What I like about this pic is the way the road at its narrowest point echoes the tower on the top of the hill. A nice stormy sky - another feature I look for - rounds this one off.
Here's another drive-by shot (above) that shares some similarities. Again there's the converging lines reflecting a bright sky and an interesting background as the telegraph poles recede into the distance.
In quick succession, here are some more pics that demonstrate the same features.
Hopefully, the "structure" I wrote about is becoming clear in these photographs. One bit of kit that helps greatly when hunting for images like these is a 28mm lens (on the 35mm format). A 35mm lens doesn't exaggerate the foreground enough and a 24mm often leaves the focal point in the background too small. I find the 28mm is just about perfect for emphasising the converging or sweeping lines without diminishing the background too much.
Here's what I'm always aiming for. It's a classic Henri Cartier-Bresson landscape and I love it. Two things are vital to this composition: the featureless sky and the small clump of trees perched upon the horizon to the right of centre.
This sort of composition isn't the only thing I look for. I also like interesting objects in the foreground with a background that's out of focus, as in those below.
|By Bill Schwab|
And that's about the best I can do explaining the structure I go searching for. We all see things differently and it's unlikely you'd value the same compositional elements that I do. But it might be worthwhile looking through the photographs you've taken yourself that are a bit special and asking what it is that makes them click.