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Monday, May 18, 2009

Organize Complex Scenes

If you've been reading this blog a while you'll know that I'm a big fan of simplicity when it comes to composition. My underlying philosophy is that the fewer image elements that you have, the stronger and more graphic each element becomes. But sometimes you find yourself with an interesting subject that is just too complex to even think about simplifying--and the key to composing them powerfully is to keep things organized.

In the scene of an old Connecticut mill town shown here, for example, it was the complexity of the various layers of the scene that caught my eye. I wanted the scene to feel complicated and interesting--as if the longer you studied it, the more you'd find. Here are a few guidelines that you can use to help you organize such scenes:

  • Include some visual anchors. In this shot, the two large buildings facing the camera are the major structures and by placing them high in the frame, they dominate everything else.
  • Keep things level: There are a lot of both vertical and horizontal lines in this shot and keeping them parallel to the edges of the frame is very important. Look at how the lines of the large buildings, the blue smokestack and the light posts are all parallel to the sides of the frame.
  • Shoot in overcast light. If I had shot this scene in contrasty light, the shadows would have turned the scene into a jumble: shadowless lighting kept things simpler.
  • If possible, use a simple background. The trees here serve as a nice plain background to the entire scene--the eye stops exploring at the top and returns to the main scene.
Experiment with complicated scenes when you see them--it's good practice in visual organization and you often come up with very unusual and complex pictures.

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