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Best style of photography for practicing composition? (10 replies and 5 comments)

2 years ago
karanboparai 2 years ago

I want to work on developing my skills in terms of composition but I wanted to know what your opinions might be on what style or genre of photography would be best. I have a liking for street photography but for the most part I find myself taking a picture based off my gut and then looking at and developing the composition during the editing of the image. I am wondering if anyone feels a certain style of photography would be best in terms of allowing me to practice lighting and composition?

Thanks,have a great day!

2 years ago
rlandry1 2 years ago

I would suggest perhaps getting out and telling what is called a photo story. Now, I'm not saying write a script and go out and shoot the script with your stills camera (although that could be an option if you want to go that far), but I mean have a more or less broad area in mind that you want to shoot, like your school for example, or the town square. Spend the whole day just wandering around through this area with your camera. Don't think about trying to get the best shot possible, just shoot what you think looks interesting. Shoot from far away, then move closer and shoot it closer. What I do is just bring two basic factory zooms with me, one with a long range like a 70-100mm and one with a smaller one, like a 18-35mm. Take 100 pictures. Go home, and sift through it all, and pick out the ones that you think tell an interesting story. You often find after doing something like this that a story actually begins to form in your mind as you're shooting.

Anyway. Hope this is helpful. I had to do this as part of a photography class once, except we had to get very specific shots using different elements of composition, thinking about things like round vs square shapes, vertical/horizontal lines vs. diagonal lines. Etc., etc. It was very illuminating, and actually helped me a lot later on when I had to do a point and shoot documentary style video later on that year. I found my instincts for composition had improved drastically just from the few times I when out and shot.

2 years ago

Ill give it a shot,thanks for the advice!

2 years ago

Re "Gregg's" suggestion, an "obsession" with the technical aspects of fundamental composition is a valid suggestion (e.g. Ansel Adams), but one that brings with it’s the risk overwhelming, if not drowning, the photographer in the perceived technical requirements at the sacrifice of content. The question wasn't asked in the context of a set-up for a studio or movie shot, but rather with a stated preference for street photography.
Photography, other than studio photography, is often about anticipation, of creating the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time by knowing how specific locations will appear at specific times of day and times of the year in terms of lighting, shadow, contrast etc.
Even the most acclaimed photographers routinely take thousands of shots in order to find those very few that become “keepers”. The average of 1/4 to ½ percent of all shots taken are the ones you see featured in exhibitions and books. Robert Frank took over 27,000 shots for the 83 photographs that became “The Americans”, often cited as one of the most important photographic books of the 20th Century
And, never delete! A shot you pass over any number of times, may suddenly appear dramatically different a few months, or even years, later. How we “see” can change dramatically over time.
In order to learn how to “see”, frame, and compose, I would suggest starting with:
Robert Frank, who has demonstrated enormous range over the years- contrast the work he did in "The Americans" with his later work of the 1970's-80's.
For the use of light, shadow, tone and contrast, Louis Faurer, William Klein, Ray Metzker, Bill Brandt, Sally Mann.
The widely experimental but often brilliant work of the Japanese Provoke School of the late 1960's from which the influential Daido Moriyama emerged.
Photographers of the 60’s and 70’s like Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin.
And more recent photographers like Trente Parke and Jabob Aue Sobol.
Given the wide range of the above, it can be easy to see why, right now, the core rule is “anything goes”. Indeed, given the thousands of images that we are now routinely subjected to each day, and the millions of photographs that are uploaded daily to services like Instagram, Facebook etc., if you want to get noticed, being different helps.
Here are a few links, in case you haven’t seen these already:
Louis Faurer»

Ray Metzker»

Robert Frank»»»»

Daido Moriyama»
Diane Arbus»
Nan Goldin»

Trent Parke»
Jacob Aue Sobol»

Kirk Eiden
2 years ago

FS, awesome stuff, thank you for the links!

2 years ago
Gregg 2 years ago

To develop your composition skills, I would study Henri Cartier-Bresson. C.-B. studied art (when he was 18) for two years under André Lhote. Lhote's was obsessed with fundamental composition, the golden ratio, divine proportions and "universal harmony". Cartier-Bresson is know to have said that "Lhote taught me to read and write, that is, to take photographs".

C.-B. was also know to have reviewed the contact sheets of the other members of the Magnum agency upside down. By doing this he could look purely at the composition first, which was the most important criteria before looking at the rest of the content.

I believe that C.-B.'s genius is in his composition! It's amazing how structured his photographs are! They are beautiful. It's all in the geometry.

Rakesh Malik
2 years ago
Rakesh Malik 2 years ago

What got me started was an informal class taught through a local photography club. The teacher started with basic elements of composition (i.e. points, lines, shapes, color, texture, weight) and then progressed to arrangements, and then on to putting it all together.

For a while after taking that class my images were rather clinical, and you could tell that I was rather mechanically assembling elements, but over time as I started developing an instinct for working with those elements, I instead started focusing on what I was trying to say with the image. I still think a lot about the composition in terms of elements, but now it's mainly when I'm reviewing images in post rather than at the viewfinder.

2 years ago
Mike 2 years ago

I spent many years going to art galleries to learn composition. You are learning from the masters and the atmosphere of a gallery is condusive to learning anyway. Then trying to translate that experience into photography can be really testing. You either get it or you don't. But using your still camera as often as you can certainly helps.

Although, I own a whole batch of camera's digital and film and all the formats I still get most pleasure from loading film in a camera, maybe this is my comfort zone, perhaps it is familiar to me but given that you have only one chance to get a good picture, excites me. Digital cameras are outstanding but not exciting IMO. I need to hear a mechanical shutter fire, I know the process for a shutter to work, the sound springs, the precise tension of a spring pulling blades across each other is therapeutic to my ears. 

I slip a Rollei 35 Sonnar into my pocket every time I go for a walk, it is the size of a digital but has a soul. It's all manual and total guesswork. But that's what is is all about, it's just you and your camera and nobody is there to help you. That's the only way to learn.  

2 years ago

I think this is excellent advice. Shooting film is a great way to slow yourself down and think about what you're shooting. Especially now a days with the cost of film.

I own digital cameras for motion but do all my stills with film. I think it was one of the reasons my motion work improved because of it teaching me to SLOW DOWN and think about what I was shooting. It really shows you how to read the scene, composition and light before you press that shutter button.

2 years ago
JustinBalog 2 years ago


There are some great ideas in this discussion. I would say the best practice would be working with intent.  Craft a few different story ideas in your head, and set out to tell them.  Also, I feel that some of the most satisfying work I have done was the work within boundaries. You might try spending a set amount of time with a certain focal length. The goal is not only to explore it's capabilities, but push your vision within the boundaries it imposes. Then, when you feel good about that, try another focal length that you would commonly use in your film work.  

In short.....practice with intent, and work within the boundaries imposed by certain focal lengths.

Just some thoughts, really enjoy this discussion. Thanks for starting it!


2 years ago
MattMillerDP 2 years ago

One of the ways I helped improve my composition was to take 20-30 differently composed shots of the same frame, whether it be a building, person, room, etc.  Move far away, close up, low and high.  I would look at them later in the week and some would just 'feel' right.  The composition helps tell the story or elicit an emotional response, and you will see it in your own work when you view it with fresh eyes.

For the best over the top composition watch anything Wes Anderson, or Mr. Robot.

-Matthew Miller

2 years ago

Also I'm sorry I completely didn't answer the question in the post. The best type of photography for composition is any type of photography!

1 year ago
matthewwade 1 year ago

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1 year ago
Wouter 1 year ago

Composition is subjective and that's the whole point.

If you *think* about the textbook rules at the time of framing, your frame will probably look good, but it will lose a lot of its unique, individual expression and character.. unless maybe you're really lucky and subconsciously something interesting happens. It's impossible to define what makes a composition work. One reason is that it also depends a lot on the eye of the beholder. The least you should do is to honour the story, the subject.

You focus on the subject of your story and forget about your *thoughts*. Then you just *feel* your way through the process. What is my subject expressing? How do I *capture* this?

Forget about rules, forget about thoughts.. just feel your way through it. Try something.. you will fail, a lot, before you get better.

There's no point in copying the rules or other people's work. There's only you and your way of seeing things. Otherwise your work will just become a copy of copy of a copy.

The latter is a good way to learn, but at some point, you have to let it go if you want to show us something worth our while.

And don't take yourself too seriously.. don't try to force it.. allow it to happen naturally. The more your force yourself, the more forced the composition will feel. Work practically... *capture* the essence of what is there. There's nothing more to it.

There is no objective *perfect* frame. Everything can be captured in an infinite amount of ways. The whole point is that you find your own way.

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