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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Composing The Dragon

Composition is never an easy thing to achieve. Readers of the site know that I often talk about the 'Element Approach' to composition. It's still something that I regularly work on, and will ultimately (I hope) come out in published form. One thing I have been lacking though is critical discussion around composition, particularly from a fellow landscape photographer. I had it in bucket-loads over the last recently!

For eight days I have been in the Drakensberg with Joe Cornish, Denis Hocking (of Hocking Photographic) and Nick van der Wiel (Tailor Made Safaris) locating venues for future potential photographic workshops. Weather, as is per the norm for the Drakensberg, was variable. Hot sun, soaking rain and gear penetrating drizzle. Not that dissimilar to British weather I suppose. The photographic opportunities were fantastic though. 

And yes there was banter. Continual photographic discussion. The kind that dedicated photographers thrive on. Working with Joe, who is arguably considered one of the best Master Landscape photographers around, was an absolute pleasure. Working unencumbered - as in no students - was liberating. I love teaching, but it often means that I don't get to concentrate on my own work. This is absolutely fair and expected, but nevertheless we all want a little time to ourselves.

If I leant about anything this last week, it was to do with composition. This is something that I think a lot about anyway, but actually working with other landscape photographers, gave me the opportunity to be more introspective and critical of my own compositions than I usually am. It simply is not the same reading about another photographers thoughts. Nothing replaces actually spending time with other photographers and seeing them work. Of course I wax lyrical about this regarding workshops. Nothing beats completely immersing oneself in the act of photography.

If I am completely honest with myself the work that I produce often relies too much on technical gymnastics. I'll often approach a subject with an eye to solving a technical problem. This is the wrong approach and one which I don't teach. Approach from the composition first and foremost. The problem is that technically masterful images are more readily noticed on the internet and by others (it's why the current American style of landscape photography is so visually appealing on initial viewing - it's often brighter, more contrasty and more processing dependent than the work of their European counterparts). The work is phenomenal, and I am not making a personal dig at this style of work. The South African photographer, Hougaard Malan, whom I greatly admire, confesses on his website that he draws inspiration from a number of American photographers. The point is that in my work I've often concentrated on the technical when the aesthetic should have been primary.

So, as a result I spent the week shooting fewer ultra-wide angle shots and if there were any image stacks, it was because I didn't have the equipment (read: filters), or the equipment was limited in it's ability to capture the light. One of my favourite images of the week  was actually shot with Joe's old manual focus Nikkor 50mm f1.8 (I have an identical copy of the lens but hadn't carried it on the walk). As was pointed out to me, by using a slightly longer focal length, the mountains won't feel quite as distant. It certainly made for images that were a little out of my usual near-distant approach where the foreground is right-up close.

This is not to say that technical workarounds were completely absent. There were image stacks for tonal blends and in one example I ended up using the polariser in two different orientations so as to create a more subtle pattern of highlight reflections on the sandstone walls of a gorge. All the same I found myself pushing harder than I usually do in creating my images. I loved this aspect.

In the end it was an amazing week that Nick, Denis, Joe and myself spent in the Drakensberg. Joe, Denis and Nick continued on to the Wild Coast while I spent some valuable and overdue time with the family. No doubt there will be an update on Nick and Denis' blogs soon. I'm also looking forward to potentially seeing some of images created in published form at some point.

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