One of the most difficult things to understand for a beginner (and sometimes also advanced) photographer, when I meet them in my workshops or classes around Italy, is the language their cameras and lenses speak.
Photography, as one of my guides and masters in photography states, is the translation from one language to another. We, as photographers, turn a 3D reality into a 2D world, by the means of an object, the camera. The camera is just a tool, and we are just like interpreters who turn one language into another, through this tool. This series of articles aims to show my idea of how I work this interpretation through composition.
One last introductory warning, this is not a comprehensive guide to photographic composition, it’s just my approach, developed in my years of work, study and collaboration with other photographers.
The first important notion to keep in mind is that every focal length speaks a language on its own. So composition is strictly connected to the type of lens we are using. Every good photographer should know the response to composition of the focal length they have chosen to take a photograph. Very much of the compositional process depends on this.
I am very often asked, during my workshops from Dusk to Dawn (Dal Tramonto all’Alba) what lens I would suggest to bring along or to leave at home, as if I was the one who would decide for them which language to use. I can shoot landscape with both tele-lenses or wide angle, I just choose according to the scene and to what I want to tell with my image, and which type of relationship I want to create between the elements I put in my frame. If I use a wide-angle, apart from the lens distortion when the focal length tends to be short, distances would look greater than in reality, while if I use for the same scene distances would look reduced, and object will look closer. Also, the proportions between objects are different if I use one focal length or another. With wide-angles objects in the background would appear smaller in comparison with the ones in the foreground, as opposed to when I use a tele-lens, which makes the faraway objects appear bigger.
So the choice of the lens is not a matter of wide-angle for landscape, medium tele or 50 for portraits and long tele lenses for sports and wildlife… it’s a matter of language. Not even is it a matter of how much stuff I need to put in the frame (wide-angle for a lot of stuff, and tele for little stuff…), it is much more a matter of searching for the right relationship of size, distance and place between the objects I have in my frame, as this relationship will help me tell my story in a much better way.
So why 5D? I am not mentioning a Camera type here.
Our civilization often identifies the fourth dimension as time, and time is what a photograph always fails to show. In my experience photography is more than a two-dimensional representation of our 3D would. It is my point of view, it is my personal interpretation of that world… it is a piece of world that I extract to make it mine, to make it “eternal” somehow, giving to it my personal vision…
So I need more than two dimensions, I need a language capable of telling even the most complicated stories. So I need to use emphasis, metaphors, blurring, highlighting… and photography gives me incredible tools for that, which I have divided into five dimensions… three more it’s physical ones.
So we have:
1 and 2_ The usual two dimensions of the photograph. Here falls everything about framing, including or excluding objects, subject positioning and “volume” balance.
3_ What I call “perspectival depth”, which is the depth, the third dimension created by lines, light and shadows, point of view, and so on.
4_ Depth of Field, which is one of the most powerful tools in photography. It gives the photographer the capability to isolate, to hide and highlight things using the actual third dimension and twisting it in its translation into two dimensions.
5_ Movement, moving objects in photography can represent both the running of time or just movement itself, which in a still image is a kind of magic.
In my next article, I will go through these dimensions and show how to use these dimensions to tell stories with your images, and how changing them you can change the subject matter of your stories.