Photography's 90/10 Rule

Trees, Dog Rocks, Mount Alexander

In a former life I spent 12 years working as a photography tutor at a private college in Melbourne, Australia. That relationship ended mid 2010. While at the college, in addition to a heavy teaching schedule, I also ran many weekend photography workshops for first semester part time students. We'd travel up to Central Victoria for a very intensive photography program including theory and practical photography assignments in landscape and documentary photography. The conditions were tough, the hours long and the conditions, under which we lived and worked, primitive. But none of that worried me and my colleagues (either Joseph, Brian or Richard) and I achieved a great deal and really helped bring the groups up to a competent level by the end of the workshop. While each of these guys were talented photographers and more than capable as instructors in their own right, the teaching fell to me and the cooking to them. And what a team we made, looking after groups usually between 18 and 24 people.

Forget About the Exotic and Make Photos

None of the landscape locations we'd visit were particular exotic or easy to photograph. And that was the point. To be able to explore a series of quite different locations, as one of a group of photographers, and come back with your own unique view of each location was a challenging and worthwhile experience for workshop participants. The secret, which I always try to impart, is to take a physical approach to your photography. Those who did always made the most visually interesting images. The only reason folks occasionally failed to meet the requirements, other than due to camera related problems, was because they stopped trying.

Inspiration Often Follows Perspiration

Photography is, after all, 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration. And the best way for the uninspired to make great photos is to push through any mental barriers through a physical approach to their photography. We all known that employing a very wide, a very powerful telephoto or a macro lens can dramatically change the way the world is revealed. It's equally amazing how changing your angle of view (e.g., Mr. Tall or Mr. Small) or moving around your subject to explore a different direction of light or a more appropriate background can benefit your photography. One of the reasons for this, I'm sure, is because movement fires up receptors in the brain which help you commune, at a more concentrated and deeper level, with the activity with which you're engaged.

When it's a creative activity, like photography, movement can lead to very unique ways of seeing and engaging with the world around you. Do you think Jackson Pollack could have created Blue Poles from a stationary position. Not on your nellie! That painting, revolutionary for its time, is a direct result of an active mind, an active body and the willingness to take risks and experiment. Or you could just spend a bucket of money on a camera kit and never raise a sweat making photos.

Composition Means Putting Things Together

I made the photo illustrating this post at Dog Rocks near the top of Mount Alexander in Central Victoria. I've taken groups to this location on many occasions. Over the years the trees grew considerably which became a problem as not much of the warm late afternoon light got through. On grey winter days the light was often flat and very uninspiring. But the location remained a part of the program and we had to make the most of it. Fortunately, I enjoy a challenge.

I'd move around the group and provide ideas for how to come to terms with the particular problems we were presented with on each visit. One approach was to forget about color, of which there was very little to work with, and concentrate on other aspects of composition. You can see that the above image, featuring trees and rocks, is really all about the relationship between the two foreground trees and the three trees in the background. There are two separate groups of trees, one of two and one of three, that are linked together through a triangular composition. You can see this by drawing an invisible line from the tree on the front left of the frame through to the group of three trees in the background. From there you can draw your way back to the tree in the front right of the photo. The result an interesting picture from an otherwise nondescript scene. It's what I often refer to as making something out of nothing.

The key to composition is simplicity. And you achieve good composition by exploring the similarities and differences between elements such as shape, line, texture and color. Give it a try and remember, because it's digital it's free. Yippee!  

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru