Framing Your Subject

I really enjoy landscape photography and I enjoy teaching landscape photography, especially to folks just getting started with this hobby of a lifetime. I’ve never been a fan of rules (it comes from growing up in the 60’s), especially rules about photographic composition.

In fact, I generally start off my lectures by telling everyone to forget the rule of thirds. The looks I get when making this simple statement are amazing. From abject horror to tearful sorrow. It never ceases to amaze me how entrenched an idea can become if it’s repeated enough times. I honestly never understood the rule of thirds and after 35 years of shooting it’s way too late to learn.

What I do try to teach folks is to understand how the human mind “sees” an image. How the proper foreground can lead a viewer “into” your image and how the proper background can keep a viewer “inside” your image. I also try to teach folks to frame their subjects in such a way that the viewer spends as much time as possible “looking around” and enjoying your image. The whole idea is to lure the viewer deeper and deeper into your image and to keep him or her there for as long as possible (usually less than 3 seconds, honest).

Upper Pedernales Falls

Upper Pedernales Falls – Johnson City, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 93mm, f/22 for 8/10th of a second at ISO 50 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Upper Pedernales Falls – Johnson City, Texas

Take this shot of the upper section of Pedernales Falls for example. Last spring I walked around this section of the falls and took over 50 shots from various angles, elevations and positions. None of the compositions really appealed to me until I walked behind this large, cup-shaped boulder and small tree. Just as soon as I had framed the falls in the curve of the rocks I knew I had found the shot I wanted. The fact that the background also curved over the falls provided the symmetry I was looking for.

Now I had a nice foreground to lead the viewer into the image. The falls in the middle-ground as my main subject and the rocks and trees in the background keeping the viewer inside the shot. (Of course this all could be a figment of my 60’s delusions ;-))

I also try to teach folks that learning this stuff takes practice and that there is no “right way” or “wrong way” to compose a landscape shot. I’ll be the first to admit that upon visiting a new location, I’ll take 40 or 50 shots from various angles using different compositions and cull through them back in the office until I find the few that I like. Even though I shoot over 30,000 exposures in a year, my overall hit rate is generally less than 10%.

Yes, landscape photography is a lot like baseball. The more times at bat, the better your average. And like baseball, it’s also true that for spectators (husbands or wives that dutifully follow their spouse on workshops), landscape photography is about as exciting as watching the grass grow at Wrigley Field.