Composition Discussion / Questions

by Lee Santiva September. 01, 2019 245 views
Mammoth fountain, Tirol Austria

Mammoth fountain, Tirol Austria

I choose the topic of "fountain" to start a discussion and raise some questions about photographic composition. I hope the experienced photobloggers will contribute with comments or their own blogs in response.

My motivation for this blog is a self-paced course on composition which I recently started (unfortunately after I had already captured some of these images).

This blog focuses on two questions about composition:

  • what makes a fountain interesting? water, figure(s) and their inter-relation
  • what makes the photo of a fountain interesting? focal points, ratios, positive/negative space, color...

The blog is structured into two categories: dominating figures and dominating water.

When the water dominates, the figure can literally get drown out, and when the figure dominates, the question arises - is it still a fountain or just a sculpture?

Case 1: Dominating Figures

Let's explore the composition of the fountain itself in photo #1.

The mammoth dominates, as I suppose it should, it was a massive creative and it needs a massive form to stand out against the 2000 meter tall mountains in the background. However, the water spouts seem disportionally small so that the overall effect is not "this is a fountain" but more "this is a green sculpture set in water".

In the photographic composition, there is not enough contrast between the green mammoth and the green mountain in the background. This is partially resolved in photo #2. In order to achieve a better composition the edge element - distracting tree - would have to be eliminated which would also remove the mountains.

However the story of "pure nature as in pre-historic times" is not possible with a modern building in the background.

Mammoth fountain 2

Mammoth fountain 2

In photo #3 I explore the question of the photographic composition. The figure is massive again, however, the water spout is in absolutely correct proportion and position to the figure.

Millenium Park, Chicago

Millenium Park, Chicago

Now we can look more closely at the objects in the photographic composition: such as the juxaposition of a person wearing a jacket of exactly the same color tone of the fountain and the dominating complimentary colors of red and green. That figure is looking at the fountain so the focal point is drawn back again to the main object. The edge element - the woman in the right corner - is mercifully dressed all in black and thus does not create a distraction.

Indeed, the people in the photo compliment the subject of the fountain which is a person.

Case 2: Dominating Water

Sometimes the water is so dominating it overwhelms everything and prevents any kind of photographic composition.

In photo #4 the fountain pool is too large for the figures contained inside. The central figure is drowned out by the water cannon which shoots a spout which is 5-times as tall as the figure.

Fountain in Palace Garden, Schwetzingen Germany

Fountain in Palace Garden, Schwetzingen Germany

Contrast this water spout with the spout of water from photo #3. In photo #5 you see the "drowning out" effect of the massive water from the main figure also interferes with the smaller figures and their spouts.

From a photographic composition perspective photo #5 wasn't able to achieve a focal point - the people walking away from the fountain are almost in-line with the head of the main fountain, the castle building in the background as well as the white vase on the fountain wall distracts as well.

Fountain in Schwetzingen Summer Palace garden - 2

Fountain in Schwetzingen Summer Palace garden - 2

As a fountain, Buckingham Fountain in Chicago USA has a good balance between the water and sculptural elements. However the massive size of the fountain itself makes it difficult to capture and the building in the background make the composition very difficult. I do not think I was successful to capture it well.

In photo #6 the water spouts from the figures as well as on the centerpiece of the fountain do not overwhelm the overall composition of the fountain although water is the dominating feature.

Buckingham fountain, Chicago USA

Buckingham fountain, Chicago USA

From a photographic composition perspective, the skyscrapers in the background are cut off and do not fit into the frame and there's an antennea which is distracting. Thus, neither the buildings nor the fountain can be established as the subject. In addition, the top spout of white water does not have enough contrast against the sky and gets lost.

In photo #7 the building in the background supplies the necessary contrast for the top water spout but has composition issues of its own such as the cut-off of the fountain wall near the center of the photo.

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago USA

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago USA

In photo #7 the water as well as the main sculptural part of the fountain dominate the photo and the buildings. The buildings in background do not compete as much with the fountain since they are not as tall as in photo #6. Nonetheless the composition is still not clear about what is the subject, and of course the lighting could be better.

To conclude, I am still learning about composition. There may be many things I have missed in this discussion which might be important, if so, I would appreciate your ideas and comments.

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Berckmans Peter 2 years ago

Composition is never first in mind when I am taking photos. We have the luxuary of live view. and when it looks good and feels good it is most of the time good. #3 looks more correct to me than the 2 before; #4 is a good one. # 5 & 6 I like there is a lot  going on and not the water or the figures have the overweight, depends whatt you are looking for in the photo. In #7 you needed more distance from the fountain, so you can see the skyline of the city and the complete fountain. Like many things in taking pictures it is personal. I like this composition and you like another one. There are some rules to make them pleasing to our natural eye, it is in our mind. I think gonna like following this journey.

2 years ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Berckmans Peter 2 years ago

Thanks for the detailed feedback and the advice Peter. It's taking this self-study course which has made me doubt pretty much everything I'm doing... am I doing it right??? Your comment remind me that photography is an art and like any piece of art, it's always subjective

2 years ago Edited
Berckmans Peter Replied to Lee Santiva 2 years ago

Hey,it is good to learn about it. But in the end you do what you want with it. On pb are some fine technicians as I call them but there photos do not speak to me.

2 years ago Edited
Antonio Gil 2 years ago

TFS your thoughts about composition in this post. I found it very interesting

2 years ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Antonio Gil 2 years ago

I'm really glad to hear that! I never know when I go into such detail whether it is of value to anyone else.

2 years ago Edited
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