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Third in a series of six parts on how I personally approach the art of digital image making. Sharing in appreciation of the many social media friends who are interested in my work.

(Access: part one and two)


Composition is the next most important element of an image, and it is best optimized in the field. Composition is the main story-telling superstructure of the image. It is about balance, design, and the arrangement of the various parts to best direct the viewer’s attention.

Photographic composition is best optimized in the field, but the tools of the digital darkroom also offer a means to further enhancement after field capture. I can remove distracting elements, or add something to improve balance, or even extend the overall dimensions of my image.

To optimize composition, in either field or darkroom, it helps to think like a painter. I ask myself: “If I were painting, instead of photographing this scene, e.g. a low tide moment at the coast, would I paint that pebble in that prominent spot where it happened to be when I clicked the shutter? Would I paint it somewhere else? Would I want a pebble in my composition at all? If not, I can move it, or take it out altogether, either in the field or in post processing.


Likewise, an image of a beautiful flower might otherwise be ‘empty’ in all the wrong places, and out of balance. Would I like it better if my composition was populated with more flowers? If this was a painting would I paint more flowers in there?

Regardless of whether or not such adjustments could have been done in the field by physically moving or removing a pebble or even a small rock, or adding actual flowers or leaves, it is good to know that I also have the option to do these things in the digital darkroom, later.

To a large extent, the old saying that “painting is additive, photography is subtractive” is still true, but the distinction is fading.   True, a painter still starts with a blank surface and adds all the elements she needs, and only those that she needs, while a photographer starts by capturing what is there, but then may remove the unwanted “pebbles,” literal or figurative.

Subtracting elements was always easier than adding, in the traditional film darkroom, but that did not stop creative photo artists from developing “additive” collage compositions, too. The work of Jerry Uelsmann, is a case in point.

The good news is that the digital darkroom now makes it easier for all of us to both subtract and add elements to a photograph.  So, just like painting, digital photography can also be additive, too.   And this kind of flexibility allows us to develop better images (= works of “image-ination”).

To use this wonderful new capability to good effect, however, requires that we develop our sense for composition. Again, the works of others who have gone before (e.g. Ansel Adams) can be a source of ideas on what works in nature theme compositions.

Next: the second “C” –Contrast