The rules and repeatability of composition

Written by Daniel Gregory

I am a Whidbey Island, Wa based fine-art photographer and photographic educator. I am a core faculty member of the Photographic Center Northwest, as well as an instructor for CreateLive and KeblyOne . I also regularly presents at regional and national conferences. I also the host of the weekly podcast The Perceptive Photographer which focuses on the challenges and day-to-day aspects of living as a photographer.

November 23, 2020

Episode 298

In this week’s podcast, we start with a quote by Edward Weston about composition. 

“Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.”

Edward Weston

I have often thought that this quote has been misunderstood by people who teach photography and composition in photography. When I hear this quote, most of the time, instructors are talking about breaking the composition rules to make more interesting photographs. I don’t think this is the case with this quote or how to approach your photography. Rather than avoiding the rules, you should have a deep understanding of rules of composition and why and when they work. The deeper the understanding, the less you have to think about them. They become instinctually. You don’t want to head out thinking about the rules of thirds. You want to know it. The effect of it to be a part of your sense of seeing. It isn’t thinking about it. It is knowing it.

With that instinct and background awareness, you can approach your compositions and frames, focusing on how those elements help you tell your story in the photograph. Rule of compositions aren’t things to break, avoid, always use or dismiss out of hand, but rather. They are ways of describing what we see in a photograph. Doesn’t it make sense that anything that helps us understand more about how we see valuable? I would encourage you to think about how you compose your photographs and what techniques you employ in your images. Do they say what you want in the image? Do they help the narrative?

In the end, I think we all want to make interesting photographs, and the composition and framing are so much of that experience. The more you can be aware of composing, the more interesting and accurate stories you can tell. Being aware also gives you something else that is critical to photography–repeatability. You can repeat something repeatedly because you understand what happened and not just got lucky once with an accident. At the end of a day of photographing, knowing that we’re able to get the image you wanted because you understood the composition’s impacts making the editing and selection process that much more fun.

As always, I hope you and yours are safe, and please remember to keep safe and wear your mask.

Gear used in the podcast

One of the questions I get asked frequently is what sort of equipment do I use to record my podcast. I have used a variety of equipment in the three years that I have been recording, but here is the current list of equipment that I am using. Also as an FYI and full disclosure, the links are affiliate links to Amazon.

Rode Procaster XLR microphone
Rode Boom Arm
Rode PSM Shockmount
All three Rode components a kit
Focusrite Scarlet 2i2
Adobe Audition (part of creative cloud subscription)
LogicPro X
Macbook Pro
OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock

Affiliate Links

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