Compositional Strength With Scale

November 29, 2021

Remote Village, BhutanRemote Village, Bhutan

Remote village, Bhutan.
Phase One XF 150MP, Schneider Kreuznach LS 240mm. f4.5 @ 1/400 second, ISO 160

Composition is a difficult subject to master. To be honest, it's not like mathematics or geography where an exact point can be known, rather it's like literature and religion where there are many different opinions. However, as with literature and religion, there are some fundamentals that most people agree with and the same can be said for composition.

While the photo above might appear to use the 'rule of thirds', that wasn't what I was thinking.

Before you decide on your framing or cropping, you need to determine what it is you want to say. What caught my eye wasn't just the wonderful little village in the distance, rather its sense of isolation within a huge mountainous wilderness. The tiny village is dwarfed by the forests and the little trails to and from the village are spidery lines crossing a texture-rich tapestry.

The purpose of this photo was to show the scale of the village within the landscape. Scale is a useful compositional tool because humans generally love to view contrasts of scale. Two people the same size might not be as interesting as a dwarf and a giant.

Once my purpose was decided, then I looked around at how best to communicate this. If I placed the village higher up in the frame or to the left, other areas in the scene would be revealed that made the village look less isolated, less perched in the middle of no-where. Sometimes when I'm on location, I have an idea, but not the time to consider it fully. So I will often frame an image more widely, with the intention of cropping it later on in post-production. And this image was cropped to a 2:1 ratio to fit into a book I was producing.

Only once I knew what I wanted to say with the photo did I determine the 'correct' cropping  - and yes, it is roughly on the rule of thirds. Perhaps that helps the composition, but the village wasn't placed there to follow a compositional rule - it was placed there to help communicate the idea - the sense of scale.


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