Before the framing, before the crop there is a point in space and time…
I was onstage at a recent camera club presentation teaching the basics of composition. Somebody in the audience asked the question: “How do you start to compose an image?” Thinking quickly on my feet, I expounded upon with a story about how it was a Space-time Continuum issue. Later, as I mused on the clever answer, I started to conceive of the actual math. I came up with this diagram to illustrate where composition begins.
This is where it all begins.
So, to my student from my last composition class, here is the inception of composition – math-style!
It starts with you or “U” as defined in the chart. You are traveling in time and space (no Twilight Zone jokes please). At some point along the time axis of your life you chose to stand in a place marked at the intersection of the X/Y axis – a spot on the map. You now must decide how tall you will be. Will you be laying on the ground, standing on a ladder, or merely viewing the world from your height? At time T at (x,y,z) you spot a subject S and pick up your camera with a lens of a certain focal length F.
At a point in Space-Time, you aim along a direction with a magnitude. You have just created a vector. Congratulations! The magnitude in this analogy is the focal length of your lens which determines how much of the world you chose to crop from your vision. Ultimately, your goal is to is to create a composition “C”.
The mechanics of composition now yield to the art of composition. You’ve chosen a time, a subject, a place to be as well as a viewing angle. Now, within the forced frame of your sensor’s aspect ratio, you must make your vision as strong as you can in order to tell the story you want most to tell. Now balance, rules, DOF and all of the other compositional tools come into play.
It all starts with a point in time and space and a direction with purpose: the birth of composition.
Rikk Flohr © 2015