Notes From The Mountains: Photographic Composition And Light Wednesday March 19, 2014

Photographic composition is both an art and a science. The science part of it can be taught technically with reference to the Rule of Thirds, leading lines and the psychology of the gaze: what attracts your attention in a shot, where does your eye travel, and why?

The art part of composition is more vague and nebulous because it concerns subjective feelings. Ultimately, as in art so with photography, we like what we like and there’s nothing wrong, right, better or inferior in doing so.

What I find fascinating is not trying to define and pin down such subjects, but open them for discussion and thereby engage people in the process. I walked with a friend in the Peak District once and he didn’t quite know what to make of me when I stopped on the hillside above Ladybower reservoir saying the light was beautiful and I wanted to stop and take photographs.
The Peak District doesn’t have the drama and wildness of Wales, the Lake District, and certainly not Scotland. It’s rougher than the South Downs which are more uniformly rolling hills. Once you’re on the plateau on the Downs you walk longer distances without so much up and down and without the stone features and peat: it’s grassy. I have yet to explore the Yorkshire Dales but they are possibly between the two: grassy like the Downs, but a little more adventurous like the Peaks. Bowland forest makes for another interesting comparison; possibly like the Downs but with the peat of the Peak District.

What I like about the Peak District is the effect of the light, the particular colours, and the big skies. It’s a good idea to be aware of the differences of these places and not take the ideas and interests of one type of hill photography to another: particularly true if you mostly walk Snowdonia, or the Lakes, or Scotland, and then walk in the Peak District.

It’s a fascinating subject and the reason for talking about it is to engage people in such subjects. When you do this, your photography improves. Months later my friend told me he’d walked in the Peak District again and found himself noticing the quality of light, which he’d never done before. I wasn’t teaching, I was walking and photographing, but as I did so he learnt a good lesson.

Here’s some discussion about two photographs, one at Helvellyn in the Lake District and the other at Beinn Eighe in Scotland:

Lake District





Peak District

Chorlton Meadows