In doing photography and, most important, in sharing your picture result, you are essentially « looking » that the observer pay attention to your visual creations. For sure a good subject and a fine technical execution are paramount for getting initial impaction your audience. But we want more. We want to attract them by creating a durable impression that it will last longer than only the time they have seen your image. One way to obtain that result is to « force » the people to explore and discover the story behind the subject, to travel inside the picture not as a whole by itself but as a more complex context. And one way to reach that impact is certainly by selecting a specific photographic composition which represent the organization of all the elements of your final picture.
Simply looking with your naked eyes is a good training for analyzing the potential to realize an interesting photograph. Some subject categories may appear an easy task for the photographer as for portrait for example but even in this situation, the contextual visual rendering can be paramount of the sustainability of the image registered.
The different levels of a picture observation
On how many visual levels you can decode a photographic picture? Possibly a large array of them! Because people can look the iconographic message on so different aspects and not only on the technical side. When you are analyzing a picture, you are using a lot of implicit references of your past visual experiences that it is almost impossible to list all them comprehensively. That prove how complex and profound the picture significant are present into every photographs. And that proves also how photo composition cannot be simplify to basic formulas.
Importance of the light
Light is a very ephemeral thing. Photography has the magical possibility to register the flashes of different moments in our life and surrounding. It is a very small victory over evanescence. Not only that but light is the foundation of every visual subject arrangement. Its intensity, its quality, its position is very determinant of the interest you will provoke with your final picture sharing. And is not a fully objective factor because of its strong selectivity of the importance of the subject and its specific context.
To better apprehend the importance of the light in photography, it is a good manner to work in black and white digital film simulation especially if you compare a « color » picture transformed into a monochrome one. Many things will become obvious like the contrast between highlight and low light zones and the grey tonal distribution. The position of the light source is another key factor as for its directional distribution (strong, front, punctual or diffused). Its intensity will play a major role to get or not a detailed subject. Quantity and quality of light are the foundation of photography.
The graphic arrangement
It is usually assimilated to the understanding of the photo composition notion by analyzing the distribution of the subject and its material context over the surface of the picture. Many rules have been synthetized over the years (and decades) to explain and guide photographers to better « compose » their picture. Most of these rules propose a kind of pleasant picture equilibrium and a study of the eye travel into the image presented.
In my modest opinion, there is no obligatory rules to follow but only proposition of ways to do photography. The famous « rule of thirds » that has been proclaimed for more than a century as a must (or almost) has been transgressed by many outstanding pictures taken by exceptional photographs. What it is more important to know is in fact the graphic value of a final picture and to be able to observe, analyze and experiment different pattern of position, dimension and distribution of each elements present on a picture.
The deep of a 2D picture or the illusion of the 3D
This is may be the biggest irony regarding the practice of photography. We are trying to translate a tridimensional subject a two dimensions representation that, at the end, will suggest the feeling to see it in 3D. And this is possible because your mind has been fulfilled with so many visual references in our life that enable us to interpret a picture into its context and apprehend its live original aspect. So, the key word is « references » because without these is no way to guess the real dimensions of the subject. Moreover, photography proposes still images with no moving eye scan as for animated cinematography (video) that can confirm for example the in-deep position of an object compare to another one.
This is where the photographer has to submerge him/herself into others mind and be able to find the basic picture elements that will give to the observe the clue of the dimensions and position of the subject. Without those, it is often seen as a disturbing none-conclusive picture, a kind of unfinished story that can be annoying for many people looking at your image.
Questioning the observer to enhance her/his curiosity. (The picture is not only an explanation; it is also a mental trigger to reflexion)
Photography can be perceived either as an answer and as a question in the same. Emotion, study, depiction, approval or disapproval, etc. are all part of the thinking process triggered by looking at a picture which is a chosen subject-moment in time and space by the photographer.
Don’t simply replicate (Standardization have a tendency to kill the impact of a picture because of its comforting virtue and it is better to leave that to the commercial photographic purpose for example)
That is the greatest threat of the photography as an original and evolutive visual art. Repeating subjects, patterns, techniques are the fastest way to get instant recognition but at the price of trivialization and a vanishing state at the end. We are seeing an overwhelming number of pictures every day, but it is only a very, very few of them that we will retain in our mind because of their particular impact and treatment. Although there is a certain cultural background influence that we have to take count with, there is also a universal iconic language that photography transcends. But yes, if you want to win photo contests or to get a maximum likable popular retroaction, imitation is a simple way to get it!
Expand your research over time (A good subject is a never-ending story)
It is true to say that there are many different visual interests we can develop in our brief passage on this earth. We cannot prevent ourselves to explore the diversity of life in its always changing representations and humanity is one of those that we have the very justified tendency to privilege (which is not only perfectly normal but surely very captivating for humans like us!). I have written elsewhere that a single subject deserved to be treated again and again because you have never really finished to find and refine other ways to represent it. One single subject can be a lifetime project.
Stay open to new trends, artistic or not
Old and new trends are the bread (inspiration) of the artist. Keeping an open mind about our human, material and spiritual surrounding is the key to human evolution and progress. More than only a simple repetition (static) of the past, it is a variation of a dynamic world. Being aware about what is happening around us is part of a lifetime learning process that never be fully completed even after our own death because it can be further expand by followers that will be inspired by our work.
And Try, try and try again! (This quest is never finished)
Photo composition is, in a sense, the foundation of the visual artwork. Yes, there is technical ways to arrange and manage a photographic subject in its context, but it is also the original expression of the artist interpretation of a specific situation. It surpasses the graphic preoccupation of the picture to transcend it with the importance of the iconographic meaning of the artwork.