Tough question to ask, but "Are my compositions ok?"

Discussion in 'Photographic Aesthetics and Composition' started by winger, Nov 21, 2012.

  1. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    My mom is not someone I'd consider an expert in art, but she has seen a fair amount and does know what she likes and dislikes. Her main photography has been taking family shots here and there and the very occasional vacation photo. But a couple of times, when looking at my photos, she's made comments that indicate she doesn't think I know how to compose a shot and that I don't think about that at all. Since I DO think about composition, it bugs me. The latest was while she was looking at the pieces I used to screen into the Pittsburgh Society of Artists (and I was accepted) - pic below. She said that what she sees when she looks at my photos is that they're technical and not about composition. She wouldn't really go further and didn't say straight out that she thinks they're bad, but it was definitely the impression I got. So, I'm putting on my toughest layer of skin and asking people I respect and trust - do I use good composition in my photos? Is it just that my mom doesn't know about composition? Or is she right and my shots are about the technical stuff and composition be danged?
     

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  2. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    Those three compositions look fine to me. I'd say keep doing it that way, as you know what you are doing.
     
  3. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    That is exactly what I was thinking.
     
  4. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    A good way to assess composition is to look at the image upside down and inverted side to side. Try it with any HCB picture and you will see what I mean. The images you have posted looks fine, but composition is a very complex subject which never ceases to amaze.
     
  5. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    She's your mother. Mothers shouldn't criticize their kid's art because they often can't see beyond the fact that we are their children, no matter how good or bad our art is.

    Parents often have preconceived notions about the kind of art their children do but when we "grow up," artistically speaking, our art often doesn't meet their expectations.

    If your mother was an artist, her ideas about art and how your art stacks up would probably be a lot different.
     
  6. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi bethe

    your photographs are fine, i wouldn't worry too much about it.

    a lot of people judge photographs by what they are used to seeing and making.
    we all come with our own complex set of samsonite luggage so to speak.
    i am sure your mom knows what she likes and knows what she doesn't like ...
    and she is speaking from there .

    there are all sorts of "rules" when it comes to composition. but the whole point of rules
    is to break them. your work is very good, and the group you submitted to knows it too.
    parents are parents, and sometimes they don't like things outside their " comfort zone ".

    congratulations by the way !

    john
     
  7. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Yes, the compositions are just fine.
     
  8. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    Bethe, you should consider whether or not your mother really means 'composition' when she may have misconstrued that word for another or several that regard the subject of your 'graphs. I think what you posted is excellent, but it's a bit more abstract than what your mother may prefer in a botanical subject.
     
  9. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Your compositions are very good. Consider
    • trading in your mother <<wink, wink>>
    • taking an art or photography composition class with her
     
  10. Old-N-Feeble

    Old-N-Feeble Member

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    All of us will always want to be fully accepted and fully respected by mom and pop even after they're long gone. Few of us are fully accepted and fully respected by both. That's okay because it keeps us in a little continuous doubt... always on our toes... makes us try harder.
     
  11. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I feel a bit funny about putting in my opinion because I'm probably the most junior guy in here. So this isn't a criticism but it's more of "I would do it THIS way if that was mine" kind of thing. I may be wrong but I'd still do it a bit differently.

    Personally, I have a bit of an issue when my subject touches the edge. Clear off the edge is fine. Well into the edge is fine. Barely touching or little bit cut off bothers me. So, for example, the middle one bothers me a bit. I also like to include some breathing room so I would crop a bit larger. I would also use a bit wider mat for presentation purpose.

    I may not know what I'm talking about though. This is how I would do it.

    Now, I'm going to run and hide in a corner so you can't find me.
     
  12. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    Thank you all for the input!
    John V - I'm not completely sure she really meant composition except that she did use the word and has on another couple of occasions. She also said that she just sees that they're "technical" or about the technique. Could it be that she sees and recognizes that they're "correct" technically and can't get past that 'cause she's seen so many in life that aren't? She also used to complain about me taking pictures of the backs of people's heads when I wasn't photographing the people in the first place. The shots of mine that she's said she really liked were ones with a centered subject (such as Calla Cluster #1 on my website and probably in my gallery here) - I think that one's good, but sorta like something you'd buy at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Another comment was, "I just don't get what you're trying to do."
    And, yeah, if a stranger said the same things, I likely wouldn't feel the same - it's different when it's a mom and daughter thing.
    John N - rules? :wink:
    Since I like my work (mostly), I'll keep doing it my way. I have been using my 4x5 more, so that helps with looking at things upside down (the ones in the attachment were all smaller formats).
     
  13. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    No worries at all on this one! I agree. I grabbed an old print to Mordançage and it didn't have much room between the edge of the emulsion and the edge of the paper. So when the emulsion stretched, it went pretty close to the edge. It's not the best one I could have used, except that it was because I ran out of time to have things ready (and they all had to be created within the last two years). I really liked how the veils ended up on it so used it for the screening despite how close it is to the edge.

    I gather that she sees ALL my photos this way, though, not just the funky ones. Maybe I should try channeling John N and see what she says. :wink: jk!
     
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  15. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    channel me as much as you want .. :smile:
    i just want to warn ... you might get a lot of static and need an asprin:
    i have 2 kids and a "tween" who thinks she's like ... 25.
     
  16. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    If we did a body switch, don't forget I have a two and a half year old. Do you want to go through THAT again?! LOL
     
  17. artonpaper

    artonpaper Subscriber

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    I had the great honor of studying with Lizette Model. After crit sessions we take her out to a fancy restaurant (where she sent most of the food back) and we'd talk about life, art, and photography. I one time asked her how she would go about teaching composition. She looked at me almost in disgust, and said that it is impossible to teach composition, you can only feel it. She also said she didn't even use the word.

    I think she was being extreme, but I got what she meant. Following rules about composition can only inevitably lead to cliches. I teach photography and I do talk about composition. I mention that there are rules, but I never say what they are. "Well balanced" and "well composed" pictures are only one type of picture. Look at Diane Arbus's work, it clumsy and awkward at times, but always arresting. And of course Henri Cartier Bresson's work is graceful and poetic and equally arresting.

    I think these are examples of two artists who felt very different things when they photographed. I would also say that Moms aren't always the best critics, but if you feel there may be something that can be done better, let that thought percolate, and see what happens, Do not, however, let it inhibit you. Your work looks very good, and who knows, it might even get better.
     
  18. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Is it safe for me to come out of my corner now? :confused:
     
  19. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    Of course! :smile:
     
  20. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    artonpaper - Her idea of composition is sorta what I was taught, too. I do think that some careful thought can improve it. When I look at my work from about 10-15 years ago, I'm fairly sure I've improved. Finding APUG is a big part of that. Thanks for the encouragement, too.
     
  21. rthomas

    rthomas Member

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    I personally like all three pieces you posted.

    My Mom is the exact opposite - she always says she loves my work, even things that I personally hate. It's gotten to the point that I don't show her what I'm working on, because she'll just say, "Oh, what a pretty picture!" This is weird for me, because when I have exhibited work (which I haven't done for 12 years), invariably some viewers, especially people who didn't know me well, found at least one photograph to ask what the point was, or why I photographed that, or similar commentary (not always negative, but some of my images have disturbed or annoyed people). Now for the interesting bit - my Mom studied photography at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and briefly worked as a professional. In addition to that, she's taken a lot of art courses, including painting and ceramics. So I know she has some "education" about composition. I guess she's just being nice to me.

    Since I started teaching photography, I've had to deal with "teaching" composition. I agree that it's not really something that can be taught by rote. What I tell my students is this: the key is to be aware of what works visually, including the "rules" (which I refer to as general guidelines). That what matters most is deliberate thought about the composition; that they understand why they composed the picture the way they did - that they have a reason for the composition. That they didn't just center the camera, focus, and press the button.
     
  22. johnielvis

    johnielvis Member

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    from someone you neither trust nor respect:

    as long as the statements of others matter, then you will ALWAYS be "doing it wrong".

    but when someone "big" that "matters" suddenly renders a POSITIVE opinion, boy do the lemmings step in line...suddenly you're doing it better than RIGHT...new...breath of fresh air...blah blah blah...you're ACCEPTED....

    the truth: haters be hatin' fo' a REASON.

    how old are you? if you're like under 40 then I can understand why you'd care.
     
  23. rthomas

    rthomas Member

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    I'm going to step out on a linguistic limb here and say "True dat."
     
  24. tony lockerbie

    tony lockerbie Subscriber

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    Wise words indeed!
     
  25. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Hi Winger,

    I looked around in your gallery uploads before posting this response. I really like some of your compositions that you have posted in there. The ones that I gloss over because they don't interest me are the ones like you presented in your OP. I wouldn't know how to comment on compositions in that brand of photography because it simply does not hold my attendtion, but I can appreciate it for what it is. But compositions as seen in "Them Old Boots", "Sheard Steps", and the "Ohiopyle" series are very pleasing to my eye. But, I believe there is no mistaking it, despite all other satisfying elements, if composition is "perceived" to be weak, then aesthetically, it can fail in any one person's eyes, including your mother's. In the end, if you feel good about it, then who's to say your own perception is wrong?
     
  26. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    To be blunt, she may be your mother and very dear are all mothers to us but she is one person whom it appears doesn't rate your compositional skills. However you have evidence that plenty others do so why worry about one person's opinion?

    Allow one hundred people into an exhibition of say 10 great photographers' work and I'll guarantee that at least one of the hundred won't like some of the work on show and cite composition among a myriad of other reasons. Here's another guarantee. They won't all home in on the same work or even the same photographer

    Value your mother for what you believe she is good at and accept that she may not be a "born photographic critic" :D

    pentaxuser