Have you ever listened to a song multiple times, and after doing so, suddenly heard something you hadn’t before? Maybe it was the phrasing the singer imparted to the lyrics. Perhaps is was a series of notes that directed your attention to a different portion of the song. Or perhaps it was just a single instrument in the background, providing only a few accenting notes. I’ve done this often, listening to the same song for many miles. Regardless of how complex or simplified the song may be, I always find something that I didn’t notice before.
For me, the difference between music and photography
As a self-taught landscape photographer, I’ve read numerous photography books, practiced often, and studied intently the works of many great photographers. Taking something from most, this provided a great foundation on which to build.
My self-directed education took me on many paths, all of which circled back developing my talent and honing my skill.
Composition – Photography & Music
Composition in photography is often used to describe how the image is put together. There are a number of rules (most of which I like to break), that assist in deciding where to place different elements within the frame of the image. It is the photographer who purposefully decides prior to clicking the shutter how each element should play against the other. The photographer – at that time – is the composer of the image.
Composition in music is the written musical notes on staff paper, which may or may not be devoid of lyrics. The musician who created arrangement of notes has now just composed a song. Both artists – the photographer and the musician – are composers.
Both products (the image and song) may go through further transformations before each artist considers their work complete. The photographer may add contrast, exposure, adjustments, remove unwanted elements or spots, and tweak the image to the vision of the photographer. The musician too, will most often make adjustments, perhaps adding back-up vocals and instrumentation, bringing the arrangement to the desired terminus.
Composition – extends to the print & performance
Composition, at least in my mind, extends well past the initial (and developed) image, and the initial (and reworked) musical score. To me – composition is the totality of the viewer’s experience when viewing the final print, or the individual’s listening experience to the musical score performed live or recorded. The nuances of each artist comes forth.
Developing my own personal style
As mentioned earlier, I often break the rules of photographic composition. I do this in part, perhaps, because I’m slightly a rebel on many topics, and in part because I like to experiment. When I committed to landscape photography, I knew that simply following all the rules would never allow me to develop my own personal style. Only I could create that on my own.
What looks balanced, or does it need to be balanced? How does the image I am creating make me feel? What emotions do I want the you, viewer to feel? What story does this image share? A number of these thoughts go through my head as I view and create the images before me. Even though I shoot all manual, very little, if any, attention is given to the technical issues. Technical issues tend to be self-addressed as I work through the emotional aspect of the image I’m creating. This isn’t enough to have that successful composition.
The music that powers my photography
There is one key element that must occur for me to successfully create the image I envision, the image that resonate with the viewer on a personal level.
Though I never have music playing when I’m on my photographic expeditions, I’ve found – and this might sound strange — my truly successful images are created when I hear music. This doesn’t have to be any particular song, though often a John Denver song will come through. With the song silently floating around in my head, I become one with the scene. It’s as if nature has provided this musical background.
This silent tune will come to me as I’m hiking the area or as I consider what lies before me on a more macro level. It is through this music that the composition of the scene starts to explode before my eyes. Looking through the viewfinder, I become one with the image I’m creating.
Images with singular elements become the solo guitar player, skillfully finger picking the notes and chords supporting the lyrics of the song. More complex scenes open the doors of the orchestra, with the numerous instruments playing their separate parts merging in one complex, yet remarkable rendition.
Without it – dissonance
It doesn’t matter where I am. If I don’t hear music, I’m just not quite in tune with the environment around me. My senses are not open to the possibilities that exist. There is dissonance, and my photography shows it.
With music – harmony
However, when I do hear music, I’m very much in tune with my surroundings. My mind and senses are totally consumed by the creation of the image.
The result – the photographic composition in the final print that offers the viewer an emotionally attached at some level, feeling that same energy that I felt the day I created the image. It all comes together when I listen to the music that nature offers.