#01 Composition on the Fly

Blog post about this

Many fine photographers had something to say about “rules” of composition:

“A good picture—in photography or any other medium-—is most likely to be produced by the artist who upsets the apple cart, snaps his fingers at the rules, and does as he pleases. Then an art critic comes along, measures and analyzes, interprets the result, and lo! another ‘rule of composition’ is born. This sequence cannot be too emphatically stressed. Pictures come first, composition after. There is no hen-and-egg doubt about it. From his earliest days man has made pictures, to frighten evil spirits, to record history, to portray happenings, to express himself and his feelings, for any number of reasons except one-- he did not make pictures to carry out the laws of composition.”

—Edward Weston, 1937

"I don't know what good composition is... Sometimes for me composition has to do with a certain brightness or a certain coming-to-restness and other times it has to do with funny mistakes. There's a kind of rightness and wrongness and sometimes I like rightness and sometimes I like wrongness."

—Diane Arbus

“Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk. Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are the products of reflection.”

—Edward Weston

“There are no rules for good photographs, only good photographs.”

—Ansel Adams

“This recognition, in real life, of a rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is for me the essence of photography; composition should be a constant of preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition—an organic coordination of visual elements.” 

—Henri Cartier-Bresson

"My theory of composition? Simple: do not release the shutter until everything in the viewfinder feels just right."

—Ernst Haas

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 11.52.25 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 11.53.01 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 11.52.35 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 11.53.28 PM.png

Here are 5 frames from about 20 I took looking out of my hotel window in Florence, Italy (2015) one afternoon over the course of about 10 minutes. I first saw a woman having a smoke in a window across the alley and i rapidly framed up what felt like a cool shot. I composed the elements I found most interesting: a strong symmetrical center composed image around the window. It was hard to frame it without the extraneous stuff on the left of the window, at the corner of the building; i had to zoom in a bit more or chose an off-center composition. I settled into the window in the center, the zoom cropping out the gutters, and then i waited, shooting a couple shots now and then as two women in the room made the bed. There were many interesting shots from the 20—each woman paused in the window to have a cigarette at one point or another—but in the end i liked the more mysterious, almost cryptic activity of the sheet and arm. I only printed one. This one:

 Florence, 2015

Florence, 2015



 Suzanne refers to this image, “Garden of Eden” (2015)

Suzanne refers to this image, “Garden of Eden” (2015)


If you like our show, please subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcasting app, and please rate the podcast. And don’t forget to join the Neomodern Facebook group to discuss the show, share your photos, hear about specials for printing or framing your best images. Thank you!