Composition – Introduction

Sanborn-A Sanborn-B Sanborn-C

Scott Kelby, the editor and publisher of “Photoshop User” and “Layers” magazines, president and co-founder of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP), in a recent talk made the comment that even though so much has been written on composition in books and magazines, he could summarize it all in a fifteen minute talk.  And I have to admit that I totally agree with him.  So much has been written about composition, it has all been covered ad nauseam.  But if that is the case, then why are so many pictures created with poor composition?  the simple answer is, while the concept may be simple, the comprehension is not.  In my own case, while I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Layout and Design more than forty years ago, I am still learning new ways to apply the principles


First of all, the Rules of Composition are not the kind of Rule that says you “have” to do something.  Rather they are the kind of Rule that applies to nature.  That is, you can expect a customary reaction when you are able to apply them.of good composition.



This is the one rule seems to be overlooked more than any other one.  Particularly with railroad photographers.  The reason for this is two-fold.  The first reason I believe that this is the case, is because railroad photographers, as well as sports and action photographers, are shooting a moving target.  Add to that, all cameras come from the factory set up so the center of the lens is where the camera takes the exposure and bases the focus on.  When add to that the fact that your subject can be moving quickly, it can be very difficult for the photographer to do anything but keep the main subject centered in the lens as he is shooting.  The solution to this problem is to not shoot so tight, so you have room to be able to crop the image later in a program like Photoshop.

The latter part of that problem is indicative to the second main reason for photographers not living up to the Rule of Thirds with their images.  That is the desire to fill the frame with their main subject.  So much so, so there is no room left to be able to crop the image.


All of the images here are from the same RAW file.  Sanborn-A is the file, size wise, as it came from the camera.  Like a lot of people, in my haste, I centered the image in the view finder.  While the resulting image is pretty good, everything is right dab in the center of the frame.  The lead locomotive is center between the left and right sides and the skyline and in this case train is right in the center of the frame top to bottom.  The red lines in Sanborn-B represent the guidelines if one was applying the Rule of Thirds and again illustrate just how everything is evenly balanced between the top and bottom, and between the left and right.  The third image Sanborn-C, is the same image cropped applying the Rule of Thirds and keeping the same 2/3 proportions of the original image.  But we are not restricted to the traditional 2/3 proportions like we would be if we were shooting slides.  Something was an additional benefit, if you were working in the dark room and making your own prints, instead of shooting slides.

So for the last image, I cropped the picture so it has adhered to the Rule of Thirds but allowed it to become more of a panoramic profile.  I.e., longer than the traditional 2/3 proportions.  For me, it has more of an impact than the others.  It maintains the open vastness of the original image and the nicer proportions of the image cropped to the Rule of Thirds.

Next time, I will talk about other considerations one can use when cropping an image.

Charlie Dischinger

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