Evaluating How to Fine-Tune a Composition

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When leading workshops I take snapshots as part of the teaching process. I may grab a shot to give a rough idea of something I see as a potential composition. Generally not a lot of care is given to these shots in terms of critical sharpness and precise composition. When I'm editing the photos later I might come across one that's actually sharp and the composition isn't too bad. That's the case with this image, the final result you see above. The original composition is below. It's a good example of a decent composition, but it has some issues. Let's take a look at how I was able to turn it into a stronger image.

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One of the first things I look to address is eliminating, or at least minimizing, any distractions. In this image there are very light tones in the top left and right corners which draw unwanted attention. Since these distractions are at the edge of the photo it would have been easy to zoom in a little to remove them.

When I'm looking at a potential shot I'm thinking, What is the heart of subject/scene? What is key to creating the image and what is extraneous? A good phrase to keep in mind is "If it's not helping the photo, it's hurting it." With this in mind, you focus your composition on the most important elements.

Notice how in the final image I got rid of the ropes at the top and on the left. The simpler design, and cleaner pattern was to just go with the lower ropes. In this case I was able to simply crop to get to the final image. However I don't recommend always shooting loose then cropping later to figure out what you want for the composition. To arrive at the final composition may require a shift in perspective or angle of view. You're not going to be able to change those things when processing your image. Cropping certainly has its place, especially since all compositions don't fit neatly into the shape of our viewfinder. The image I ended up with is a bit shorter than if I had kept it proportional to the original.