Following on from the feedback I recently received from my tutor, Keith Roberts, I've been rereading David Präkel's book 'Basics Photography 01 - Composition', to remind myself of some of the important reasons for using the 'rules' of composition and why it should be planned in to image making.
The book begins by covering the basics of composition, such as viewpoint and focal length. There are some very good images to guide you through the examples; some by students and some by more well-known photographers. There are also some interesting quotes - one I particularly like is the one by Henry David Thoreau about how we are frittering life away amidst too much detail and how we should simplify. The is quote used by Präkel as a simile for photography and how we should consider removing unnecessary or misleading detail from our composition. (I'm coincidentally reading Thoreau's 'Walden' at the moment so it caught me eye!). Präkel compares photography to painting (and the drawing arts) but an interesting contrast he makes is that where painting is about constructing an image, photography is about selection. Präkel also makes the point which my tutor made that "the strongest message can only be revealed through a combination of strong composition and skilful photographic technique."
The formal elements of composition (point, line, shape, tone, texture, form, colour) are all covered in a reasonable depth and again there are good quality images as examples.
Following this there is a section on space which covers several aspects composition in-camera, and time, which is about how to incorporate movement (or lack of movement) into a composition. Again what is important here is that the photographer must consider what they want from the final image before they go about attempting to achieve it.
The final parts of the book is more about how to bend the rules to show originality and how the 'rules' of composition apply in the various genres e.g. documentary, fine art.
Although I felt I was aware of the importance of composition, where I failed in a few of the images of my first assignment was to take photographs without properly pausing to compose the image properly; or to think about what I was trying to achieve. What the eye sees and what the camera records can be very different, and the photographer must be careful to ensure that what they are trying to convey by making the image, is what they felt they saw with their own eyes, or in fact what they pictured with their mind's eye. The outcome can be vague if the image is not properly composed. The human eye can only focus on a small area of a scene at any one time, and excludes much of the remainder. The camera will often record all of the scene for scrutiny and this may mean that various parts of the shot are inappropriate and misleading. Another important point I took from Präkel's book is to do with planning. Präkel advises that a photographer should always compose his or her thoughts before composing the image. This need to consider what you are actually wanting to photograph and how you'd like that image to appear, does add time to the production of a 'good' photograph but as the photographer becomes more adept, this time will reduce. Planning the photograph may even be prior to taking the camera out: available light, time of day, viewpoint, shutter speed, depth of field, filters and so on, all need to be considered in how they might affect the ability of the photographer to create the image they want.
I really enjoyed reading this book (again!). For my level of learning it is ideal and I found there to be lots of good advice throughout. I have already invested in the same author's books on lighting and exposure.