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what is photographic composition?

I used to dislike the word composition. We did essays at school when I was quite young called compositions. I quite liked them but they were very mechanical. Whenever I read the word later, where it was associated with art, I thought of the academy, of young ladies trying to draw; it was no use to me. Later, doing photography I met people I respected who talked about composition and ‘good composition’. It had no meaning for me beyond getting some interesting elements in the frame in a harmonious way, probably a bit cheesy looking. I mean some of Cartier-Bresson’s shots are only an inch away from cheese and some of his Indian shots are cheesy- and he was the master of composition. I preferred the seeming chaos of New World photographers Friedlander and Winogrand. And all of this was because I had the wrong association with the word composition. But I kept the word in mind. It rattled around, homeless, no meaning, no use, but hopeful, ready at hand if a use could be found for it. And after a year or two I started all of a sudden, taking more care in the framing of my shots- not in a 2D way but in my point of view,  my angle of attack- a combination of where I stood, the angle of the camera, how everything balanced up in three dimensions not two. Suddenly I got this whole composition thing. Before I had a 2-D sort of graphic design idea of simply moving stuff around in the frame. But instead of thinking about that think of circumnavigating your subject looking for the right slant, the right way in, the right balance. And not just a planetary circumnavigation, zooming in and out as you circle it too. Zooming by moving bodily I mean rather than using a camera zoom which puts you back in the 2 D world I feel. I used to think light was everything, now I think composition is everything- I’ll recover.

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