a blog by knut skjærven

The Lightness Of Life (8)

What does composition mean to you?

 I am glad you asked that question. Composition means everything but in a very special way.

Composition is a sword with two edges. You need to know the fundamentals for the reason of using them, but also for the reason of not using them. If you know how to ride a bike you are given two options, not one. You can decide to ride it, or you can decide not to.

I do not go around measuring thinks. I still think that looking at or studying good photographs, and paintings for that matter, are the best education you can get. So I do that from time to time. And I pick up good compositions from just walking around in the cities or in the countryside. They are all over.

I take the time study the best images I can get hold of. Paintings or photographs. I look at them over and over again. I hope I pick up things. I try to figure them out. However, I never think much about it when I am out shooting afterwards.  It is more like an automatic scanning of scenery that goes on in the background. You are arrested by reality. Images come to you. Not the other way around.

I try to get a certain balance in my photographs. Or, if I decide to, I try to get a certain un-balance in the shots. I have these two options. I do not try to shoot in blindness, which by the way was my speciality not that long ago.

A very important side track was this: I discovered that an eye on composition in pictures also trains you in an area that I had not expected. You get to become a better planner. It is like the knowledge of foreground and background, the knowledge of circles and squares makes it clear that this is not only about images, but about life in general. That was new to me.

I learned that you can only have one focal point at the time. That goes for life as well. You can have many things in motion at the same time still, but you need to set focus on the one you are working on right this minute or nothing will materialize with quality. Just like in photography. Simple is solid.

I find all this to be a to be a questions of training. All of us can do it. Not to the refinement of HCB, but we all can improve along the way. In our own tiny scales.

The more tools you have in your rucksack the better. The point that once it is there you can forget all about it. That is the way is works. It works silently for you if you tell it to. Very easy, in fact.

Photography is hard work in the beginning. Later it gets much easier. HBC collected images from 20 years for his book Decisive Moments that was published in 1952. And another 5 years for his The Europeans from 1955.

That’s is how hard/easy photography is. Think about that for a while. I did.

Let me show you two images that work for me in terms of composition. I find them both to be complex since there are many elements in both. I cannot tell you exactly why they work, and that does not really bother me either. It is like lateral thinking setting in. You rely on the automatic scanner. I use that a lot.

The images are Englishman in New York (10) and Rainy Day (11).

Englishman In New York (10). © Knut Skjærven.

Englishman in New York (10). I did not set the title on this image. Someone else did, and I am thankful because it fits perfectly. I am content with the composition of this image, because to me it is ”a resting image”. Not too little and not too much. I am in no positions to analyse an image of this complexity, but I would like to know why I find this pleasing. If there is a why? Is does not really matter, does it.

Rainy Day (11). © Knut Skjærven.

 Rainy Day (11). You can install life into a shot by taking it at the right moment. All these people are actually on the move since it was pouring down. You can have additional movement in a shot by separating people, groups of people, objects, space and directions. The basic point here is that you need to foresee what will happen. Not that you have much time to do it in. Berlin, June 2011. All of this has to do with composition and timing.


What About Henri Cartier – Bresson? The Lightness Of Life.

(Links to all sections.)

Prelude; The Lightness Of Life (1); The Lightness of Life (2 & 3); The Lightness of Life (4); The Lightness of Life (5); The Lightness of Life (6); The Lightness of Life (7); The Lightness of Life (8); The Lightness of Life (9);The Lightness of Life (10); The Lightness of Life (11).


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