View Full Version : Thinking about a composition problem

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05-04-2014, 02:52 PM
This is a subject I've been struggling with for a while, unable to get "That One Photo" that really captures the spirit of the thing. I thought I'd bring my troubles to the hivemind here and see if anyone can help me find some new ways of approaching it.

There's an abandoned section of road near me, with a couple of fair-sized eucalyptus trees and some smaller chaparral scrub growing straight through the asphalt. In person the scene, and especially the tree trunks emerging from the road, make for quite an eye-popping "nature bats last" image. Photographically, though, I can't come up with a compositional approach that shows that impression; I can get a photo of the scene in which the trees are too distant to see what they're doing at the bases, or I can get a closer image of the tree punching through the asphalt but with no wider context. I attach an example of each (both are negative scans with minimal processing, so they aren't necessarily great technical examples, but I hope they show the compositional aspects).

The more distant scenic shown below isn't a terrible picture of the setting (this example isn't great but it's compositionally kinda-OK), but the closer images are a bearcat to build into a decent composition. As seen in the attachment, I tend to get the asphalt prominently presented but a big uninteresting tree trunk leading the eye out of the image.

So, folks, what are your thoughts? What would you try as an approach to this subject?



05-04-2014, 03:16 PM
Out of the two and bearing in mind what you are trying to draw attention to, the closer image works better. However, you may try an even closer shot taken to the right of this image where you show asphalt in the lower part of the frame and tree above ( I mean really close, inches away). Don't know if this helps.

05-04-2014, 03:31 PM
shoot 8 x 10, with movements you should be able to get what you want, expensive and time consuming, yes. but sometimes, even 5 x 4 does not give adequate detail. I would think, also enlargements to 20 x 24 would be great.

05-04-2014, 03:45 PM
As Cliveh says, I am thinking cropping to the bottom half and right 2/3 of the second image, cropping out the left side of the tree.
2 cents worth, but we don't have pennies any more.

05-04-2014, 03:54 PM
Did you consider using a pinhole camera?
Make a shot taken from about 15 cm / 6 inch above the ground.
Imagine you're a cat walking around over there. What do you see?

05-04-2014, 04:45 PM
I'd try another scene because I don't see a shot there anywhere in any format.

05-04-2014, 04:50 PM
I think the time of day is important, too, due to the shadows. You may want more or less.
I wonder if a Hasselblad with a super-wide lens might do the trick.

05-04-2014, 06:15 PM
My first thought... shoot 2nd photo with a very wide angle lens, asphalt tree in the foreground, road at mid and background. Smallest aperture possible for very long dof.

05-04-2014, 07:02 PM
A triptych seems in order here - ab shot establishing the environment, then two others with interesting detail.

05-04-2014, 07:33 PM
My initial reaction is the same as Bert's. Very wide angle, right up practically touching the tree trunk so that half the frame is the tree punching through the asphalt with detail, including the texture of the bark and asphalt, then the rest of the frame can take in the overall scene fading out to the distance. I agree with above that time of day could make a big difference.

But then it was just WPPD so I've got pinhole on the brain... maybe something similar could be done with a wide angle lens?

05-04-2014, 08:30 PM
Maybe there isn't a single image to encapsulate what you want? Sometimes you really 'can't get there from here'.

Options: a set of images, wide-angle and work close to a key element, use a long lens and compress the space between related elements, change your eye level, redefine your requirements for 'success' ( 8-) ).

Bill Burk
05-04-2014, 09:46 PM
I might not have seen it live, but where you show the close-up of the tree... the middle-ground rock layer jumps right out at me. I think I'd move to the left about 2 feet and work to make the small rocks embedded in the bank of the middle-ground part of the composition. You have plenty of opportunities to try different times of day lighting, you could experiment and work some different shadows from different times of day into the composition.

05-05-2014, 10:16 AM
David Bailey was being interviewed on B.B.C. TV recently and interestingly when asked about composition replied " composition is bollocks", which is very easy to say when your'e a multi- million living legend photographer, but not for the rest of us ;)

05-05-2014, 10:31 AM
David Bailey was being interviewed on B.B.C. TV recently and interestingly when asked about composition replied " composition is bollocks", which is very easy to say when your'e a multi- million living legend photographer, but not for the rest of us

If we're on a quoting spree ... a certain old fashioned British pop group said in 1977: "Never mind the bollocks" :whistling:

05-05-2014, 10:34 AM
I'm imagining a lot more contrast in the road between the stripe and the pavement, and then about twice as close as the far off photo so that you see the road curving and the tree butting up out of the side of the road. What if you took it just after sundown so there weren't any significant shadows on the road and also so that the road would be a dark value and the stripes would still be light?

05-05-2014, 10:56 AM
Composition is a very personal thing. You can send ten experienced photographers to a scene, and likely get ten different pictures -- none of them right or wrong. I don't think center this, crop that, etc. is going to help you unless you're interested in a photograph of what someone else sees in the scene. You seem to know the fundamentals already; the rest is more subjective.

05-05-2014, 11:13 AM
If we're on a quoting spree ... a certain old fashioned British pop group said in 1977: "Never mind the bollocks" :whistling:
Yes I remember the Sex Pistols, and I like David Bailey because his fame and wealth haven't changed him much, and he doesn't pretend to be something he isn't.

05-05-2014, 11:14 AM
I like the second of the two especially the scar in the shape of a cross on the trunk of the tree. Re-take it in better light and then move on to something new :) Good luck

05-05-2014, 11:16 AM
When in doubt, I always try a frog's view.

That usually lends a new perspective and makes the subject more imposing.

Those gorilla pods are great for that.

05-05-2014, 12:39 PM
Wow, I'm very impressed with the diversity of responses! This is just the sort of discussion I hoped for to get the wheels turning.

Working from some of the suggestions, I stopped off there on my way to work and tried out a couple of approaches on 5x7. The tripod doesn't get quite as low as I'd like---I need to set the camera on a cinder block or something---but I was able to try the "wide angle close up against the tree with the road surface in the distance" composition that several people mentioned. The lens only goes to f/56, though, so we'll see how good the DOF actually is. (No, I didn't preview it; you try viewing at f/56 while using your shirt as a darkcloth because you forgot to bring one. At least it's not winter, and at least I was wearing a dark-colored shirt.)

The triptych idea is interesting and something I hadn't considered at all. The wider scene is a natural horizontal, the tree closeups want to be vertical; so maybe it makes sense to have a central 8x10 horizontal with two 5x7 "sidelights".

The light was exceptionally variable this morning, with the sun poking randomly through the nearby trees and the morning cloud cover just in the process of breaking up. Unfortunately it isn't a good spot for evening light; the sun sets behind the stony embankment, so the whole area just goes "plop" into deep shadow suddenly, long before the golden hour. I may need to do some early-morning visits in midsummer, though.

Thanks! It's nice to get a little bit out of the pure-gearhead discussions and talk about actual images.


Edit: I like the hell out of David Bailey's attitude. And the Pistols', for that matter. Good material to have in mind for artistic work in any medium.