Idea, design and composition

We agreed that design and composition are the hallmarks of photography .. and without them you end up with record photos or worthless photos.

I think that we tend to confuse three things .. ideas, design and composition .. where idea is the story, design is how to tell it, while composition is how to tell it well ..

So I have an idea .. I may be reading about the artistic effects of using perspective, driving across the country and see a scene that stops me, or I want to do a study about poverty .. the list is endless, from the mundane to the abstract .. I would then have to design how to tell the story .. still life, street photography, studio work, and so on .. and based on this choice I would choose my equipment .. and the last bit would be the composition .. i.e. shooting the scene using the equipment and technique most suitable ..

So for example .. the other day I wanted to photograph a historic site, that is always full of people, especially at the time of the day when the light was most appropriate for photographing it. I wanted an angled frontal shot with perspective that would show the glory and tell the story of the place, with no or very few or blurred people .. I decided to shoot just before sunset (site front is west facing), using long shutter speeds to ghost out the moving people (I needed a -8 or more ND filter), a tripod, and a shutter release. I set my tripod and camera at a place where I could get these angled frontal shots with perspective, using a wide angle lens. I took some shots on a clear day, with hard low sunlight, producing some harsh shadows. I also shot others on an overcast day, with diffuse light and little or no shadows. I used different shutter speeds and apertures to get as many shots as I can, so I can later choose the best ones .. Some shots (20-30 seconds) showed no people (completely ghosted out) and others had people in slow motion.

Studying what I did carefully you realise that the first step was the idea: photographing the site front, angled and with a perspective (ideally without people, few people, or blurred people) .. then the design: long stutter speed with ND filters and tripod and a wide angle .. then the composition: frontal with perspective using a wide angle lens and different shooting angles and positions, and different shutter speeds and apertures .. At the end of the day I chose only one photograph that I felt was good and fulfilled my idea and vision .. it was what I saw in my mind to start with, and was then physically produced, for me and others to see ..

So have a story, decide how to tell it, and tell it well .. Idea, design and composition

That’s how you make a good photo