Ambarin Afsar discusses how composing your photographs is like writing a fantastic script for each frame you shoot, much like scripting a movie.
This article was originally published in October 2010.
Scriptwriters tell stories by forming characters, creating plots, deciding which themes will work together, which ones will flow and which ones will clash. Similarly, a photographer has to construct powerful images from a whole range of elements available to him in a scene. He needs to see more than just a landscape, a flower, a tree, a human being or even an animal. The flower becomes the lead character, an insect becomes a supporting character while the lush green setting becomes the backdrop. Simply put, photography is the art of arranging elements so that they tell fantastic stories.
The Power of Observation
At first, forget that you need to arrange elements and compose a frame. Put your camera down and simply relax. Look around you and take in everything there is to see. Then, choose one element and discover its various aspects. On a busy street, observe how the light shines on people, flowers and even the sidewalk. Watch it pour through tiny holes in lattice work and leaves or even gaps in doors and windows. Gradually, you will discover that observing just one element provides you with innumerable photographic opportunities.
Viewing Other People’s Photographs
It might sound strange but observing other people’s photographs can be a great learning experience as you can easily spot flaws and appreciate fine points. However, remember to leave behind technical jargon and simply view photographs for sheer visual pleasure. If you like a particular image, ask yourself about the kind of story it tells. Is it happy, sad, angry or quiet and lonely? Which part of the photograph appeals to you? Is it the action, the background or the colours of the picture?
Conversely, look at a photograph that does not appeal to you and ask yourself what is wrong with it. Is the subject unappealing? Do you think that the viewpoint is too distanced and impersonal? The answers to these questions will help you understand what went wrong and what worked best and will come in handy when you are creating your own story.
Ultimately, pathbreaking photos succeed because all the bits and pieces come together to make a spectacular whole. And when the perfect frame escapes you, sit back and enjoy the beauty of the small, unnoticed things. You will find that sometimes, the best pictures are the ones that are not made.