Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
All good photographers can create strong, effective compositions that bring a sense of life and movement to their pictures. Here’s an excellent example, shot by Stew Feuerstein of New York, NY, of the Pantheon in Rome.
The strong diagonal, running from top left to bottom right, creates a sense of movement. This is added to by the curved sweep of the dome and the thrusting lines of the columns. When taking pictures of monumental architecture it is essential that you give it a sense of scale and grandeur: Stew’s shot certainly does this and is an excellent example of Visual Awareness at work.
More important than any individual shot is the thought process behind it. I was impressed by Stew's account of how he approached this shot: “... one of the most beautiful aspects of the Pantheon (which contributes to its wonderful acoustics) is its shape. It is an inverted bowl with a hole in the roof. There is lots of curvature. How could I capture that in a unique photo? I started looking up and around and decided to try framing what I was seeing at an angle. Juxtaposing the curves to the strong linear forms and boxes. The results kind of created a roller coaster out of the curves. Plus it gives you the perspective somehow that you are reclining, relaxing. Lastly it excludes the hundreds of tourists that distract from the simplicity of the Pantheon, and gives the viewer the feeling that they are alone inside the Pantheon. I thought the photo really captured the essence of the building, as a timeless coherent piece of architecture based on 'perfect' shapes and proportions. Truly one of my more enjoyable photo's of the trip.”
Stew didn’t simply point the camera upwards to crop out the tourists and emphasize the architecture, he also tilted, rotated and zoomed until he had framed an exact composition to communicate his vision.
Enthusiasts in the days of film had one advantage over today’s digital generation – it took time, effort and skill to print just one picture in the chemical darkroom. I regard images taken with digital cameras in the same way as I did film negatives; they require work to turn them into completed pictures. Stew's shot is a little dark and lacking in contrast and looks as if it came straight from the camera.
In the version below I have brightened it and increased the contrast – you can use any basic photo editing program to do this. For me the shot now suggests more of the vastness and majesty of the place:
Visual Awareness shots are rarely complete in themselves. They form the basis for a photograph but often require a subject or additional focal point to bring them alive and to tell a story.
I can see why Stew cropped out the tourists but I’d be tempted to include a carefully placed single figure to suggest the scale. I’ve retouched the shot below to indicate what I mean. I’ve also imagined how a bit of heavenly sunlight would have added drama to the picture.
Of course when you are holidaying with others you would rarely have the chance to return to a place just to capture a different lighting effect. But this is the sort of shot I would have liked to see if it were possible.
There are many other ways to capture the scale and grandeur of the place. For instance the lighting effects could be reversed in that the interior could be darker and less well defined with a gleam of light (sunlight or convenient church candlelight) illuminating the single viewer.
The most important point is that you have something to communicate before you take a shot. Visual Awareness is the skill you use to frame your vision in the camera. These are two essential qualities that Stew demonstrates in his excellent shot.
My preference is to also add a little something extra to complete the story. With luck, or the cooperation of a friend, I may have been able to include an accidental single tourist. The heaven-sent sunshine may or may not have been physically or meteorologically possible but added a final layer to complete the story.
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Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and improvers. Details of his courses and field trips at: http://www.langford.co.il/courses