This is a short post about “seeing.” Understanding composition is as important in photography as understanding your camera. Having a point of view, and something to say, is where art starts. Composition is how you craft that point of view.
This image (which I call dancing cranes at sunset) was made last year at Bosque del Apache, National Wildlife Refuge, near Socorro, NM.
I have been to this exact spot where I made this image AT LEAST 500 times. I know it very well. I have been photographing sandhill cranes for more than three decades. I know THEM very well. I have made 500,000 pictures at Bosque del Apache so now when I go, I go with very specific things in mind. I don’t just want to replicate what I already have. I decide to practice my “seeing” and challenge myself each day to find something new.
On the day I made this image, I happened to see this group of cranes from about 150-200 yards away. Based on the original angle, it just looked like a line of three cranes. I figured out that if I flanked the birds, I would get a totally different look at them. Since the cranes tend to stay in one place once they land to roost for the night, I knew I had time to walk over.
When I saw this grouping, I could have made many choices. I could have photographed only one of the birds – the one on the right. Or I could have just grabbed the pair on the left. Either would have been fine photos, but I already have many such images. I decided to do what I always do at Bosque. I told myself a story, and these birds were the central characters. I noticed the bird on the right kept opening his wings. I set up so that there would be negative space between the pair and the single bird and then made this image as the sun was setting.
I decided the bird on the right was a dance instructor and the pair on the left his students. I know, it’s weird but hey, it’s my story, so I can dream up anything I want. Using this technique I have something to illustrate with the photo rather than making a snapshot of what happened nearby.
I know from experience that negative space is a powerful (but sometimes overlooked) compositional tool and I spent that whole day looking for ways to use negative space to illustrate the many stories that unfold at Bosque every day.
So now, it’s your turn. Go somewhere familiar and try to make different images, using negative space to define certain relationships between objects in your scene, even if that definition is one that is based on a story you just make up in your head. It works for me and if nothing else, keeps me entertained when I am standing around on the cold, windy, Bosque.
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