I am sure that after reading the title of this article it is only natural for us to come up with our own list – the vast majority of which would have merit. But these are different. I thought of these items while working on a project yesterday and I was immediately taken by the uniqueness of the list. I have never seen, heard or read these items explored in this way before. I’m not saying they haven’t been presented like this before – I just have no experience with it. It is original thought for me.
While photographing pitchers and glasses and all the challenges that go with any transparent/highly reflective item I realized I had to focus on one thing at a time. That thought was immediately followed by the question, “What do I truly control?” I came up with the following three items; timing (when the shutter is pressed and for how long the sensor is exposed), lighting (how much, from what angle, what color, what temperature, etc), and composition.
While the typical three items we talk about – shutter speed, aperture, and ISO – are interrelated with my list, I believe I have taken it a step deeper. A profound understanding of the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO triangle is a requirement to start understanding my list. And with that in mind, let’s take a look at these items individually.
Timing in photography can be described like location in real estate – it is everything. We have all seen spectacular shots of a drop of liquid caught in mid air slightly above the surface with a wave radiating outward frozen in time. And we have all taken a shot while someone has blinked. Both frozen moments but one magnificent while the other is abysmal. Additionally, how many of us have struggled searching for the right shutter speed to get just the right motion blur? Once found, we then thrashed about trying to get the perfect panning motion to blur the background while freezing the moving object. Needless to say, we are constantly engaged in a battle to achieve perfect timing.
Lighting – what I was wrestling with most yesterday – while necessary to achieve the technical requirements of our photograph it also dictates the mood. In the studio we have come up with all kinds of names to describe the type of lighting; high key, low key, clamshell, butterfly, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. They are all just names to communicate how we technically accomplish a certain mood. From the abstract to the surreal we position, shape, reflect, block, and attenuate light to meet our desired mood.
There is a very strong argument that timing and lighting are elements of composition and I do not disagree with that. But I do like to think of them as separate items when considering the technical aspects of my photography. Granted, I do need a compositional idea of what I want to capture to make decisions about timing and lighting. But I then like to think of composition in the aspects of balance, shape and form. If I capture the shot in this way will the composition appear balanced or does it seem to fall over? Can I take a familiar shape and display it in an unfamiliar way? And can I take this balance and group of shapes to present a compelling form on a flat sheet of paper covered with pigments? All are vexing questions. There isn’t a single right or wrong answer for any of them but we intuitively know the difference between great, good, and bad. By questioning the elements of our scene and how they work together we solidify our composition.
As I said at the beginning of the article, this is new thought for me but it is new thought only in that I have become conscious of what I have been doing. And now that I am conscious of it, I hope to improve my compositions because of it. I hope it improves yours too.