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Olympus OD-D E-M1, f/8@ 1/20 sec, ISO 200, 24mm, no filters

Creative composition is often a matter of being really attuned to the subtleties of the landscape. In Utah those subtleties are often difficult to see because there’s just so much going on. It’s an overflow of sensory information in every conceivable way, and vision is often superseded by the mental activity of taking it all in. It can be difficult for the photographer who wants to capture more than just a postcard. I like postcards for what they are, a nice rendition of a vista. But it leaves little to the imagination beyond what it shows the viewer, a nice landscape and nothing more.

For an image to convey more, it needs to be personal, introspective perhaps, and certainly attuned to the subtleties I mentioned above. For me that means getting really focused about exactly what I see and feel, and letting the rest fall away, without worrying about “missing a shot.” One approach is to make less images, and spend more time following a specific idea or subject that leads to clearer seeing.


The image above is a good example of where following an instinct can lead to a better composition, and ultimately one that conveys a perspective. Note how the image captures great light and ambiance, but nontheless is rather busy and ambiguous at the same time. What is it really about? The moon, the flowers, the mesa in the distance, or the large foreground rock? I knew what it was about, but that’s not effectively conveyed in the image – it fails in that respect, an all too familiar occurrence for me. It may have good leading lines and overall balance, but it lacks a strong perspective. In short, it lacks a purposeful and simple composition that has the potential to convey something of what the photographer felt.

The final image is a result of following an idea or developing the “main character” as I like to tell students. That character was the large rock, which now dominates the scene and allows the other parts of the image to breath without coming into conflict. When we talk about harmony in composition, that’s the goal – to let all of the different visual elements work together. When that happens, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts, an idea that comes from the Gestalt psychology.

I made the image with the Olympus E-M1 on a tripod and the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 lens (becomes 24mm with the camera.) I focused on the backside of the rock at f/8 and checked the cliffs in the distance afterwards on the LCD screen to make sure I had enough depth of field.

The original raw file before any processing in Lightroom. The main work was to use subtle dodging and burning to lead the viewers eye and create depth.


Get close, get intimate, show the viewer what you see and feel. Think of a conversation between two people shouting across a room versus sitting at a small table in an intimate setting. If you want to share your version of the lansdscape, find a way to show your perspective, not the postcard image which just shouts at your viewers.

Agree, disagree? Let me know in the comments below. I’ll also be sharing some more behind the scenes photos from our workshop which starts tomorrow!

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I agree with your approach — your aesthetic — completely. But in your final image, wouldn’t the sense of intimacy and place have been enhanced by the moon?

  2. Funnily enough, to me the second image does have a strong perspective; the rock is still very strong as the main point of perspective (in fact I find it stronger in that image than the others – rule of thirds is one reason I think), whilst acting as a springboard to viewing the mesas/mountains and the gully. The tree over on the right acts as a block to force the eyes over to the left and to the moon. Overall I find the second image more interesting and engaging – but that’s just me :-).
    I also think there is tension and release in that second image. When you look at the main focal point (the rock) it is within a darker foreground (tension) and when the dark ominous tree (who knows what lurks there?) gives you a kick over the gully to the mesa/mountains there is a sense of relief to a more open and lighter (safer) background.

  3. Well, I agree with the two photographers. I like the 2nd image’s composition. The first image seems to have the massiveness of the rock not allowing me to freely go into the image.

    The first does not give me a sense of the place; the second one does. But, of course, I wasn’t there.

    1. Looks like everybody is ganging up on me! Thanks for all the feedback and perspectives, and it shows how varied we all perceive images and what we draw from them. One of the challenges with evaluating images is balancing visual design, clarity in our feelings and what we want to convey, and a “sense of place.” While I have no problems with capturing a sense of place, what we should all be striving for ultimately is personal expression. That may or may not give everyone the same response, but forces or at the very least encourages the viewer to invest more time into the image, to discover more about what the photographer is really asking, as opposed to easily answering – the epitome of a postcard image.

      Whether or not the first or second image is “stronger” from an overall landscape perspective, it is still the second which for me captures the essence of what I experienced. It may be because I’m drawn more to simplicity, or at least the “simpler” image that I decided to make it and not stop at the first attempt. That is my opinion. Each one of us has to be firm about what we want to express, and that is the critical point of both this post and my overall approach to teaching. Tell us something about what you saw and felt. And make it clear and simple, because simpler is often deeper and more elegant. This for me is not an end to itself, but a journey, and I encourage you to make your images part of a journey as well.

      Thank you all once again, it was great to get the feedback, and made me think deeply about your responses.


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