“OH HONEY, THAT’S GREAT!”
I get that a lot from my uber-supportive family and friends. How about you?
Though I really appreciate their enthusiastic support, believe they genuinely like it, and that their opinions are worthwhile, their affirmations aren't always what I'm looking for. More often, I want to hear feedback from someone who can tell me why they like it, which one is best, and how to make it better.
When I was in college taking my first pottery class, at the end of the semester my professor made us take the entire collection of work we had produced that year to the parking lot behind the art building. He then handed us each a sledgehammer. I stood staring at all the hundreds of pieces I had spent countless hours toiling to transform from a blob to a spinning cylinder sitting on boards with a sledgehammer in my hand? He assured us this assignment was not an act of cruelty but of mercy. I had a hard time believing him and secretly stashed some of my best work into a box when he wasn’t paying attention.
To this day, when I visit my parents I am plagued by those same heinously clunky pieces proudly on display around the house and find myself in the reverse position, secretly trying to finish the job. Don’t tell my mom.
Images by @thecloudpottery. Of course mine didn't hold a candle to these. Making anything that vaguely resembled a bowl or mug or cylinder felt like a major accomplishment at the time.
It’s not insignificant that my parents like my clunky work and I won’t ever really destroy all of those early works. I can appreciate that there’s something nostalgic about keeping them, just like I treasure the little drawings my four year old produces right now. But so much of the time, especially in the first few years of learning a new artform but even after many years, we can look at our own work and can sense that something is not quite right. We know we have room to grow but can’t see how. I know I like it when someone likes something I’ve made but I don’t want to just hear “Oh that’s great!” I want to know how I can make it better. And it means so much more to me when someone with a “trained eye” gives me positive and/or constructive feedback. Do you feel that way, too?
But why is that? What makes me respect their opinion more? What are their eyes “trained” for and what makes them more educated? Among whatever other skills that person may have, a strong command of the principles of composition are no doubt a piece of the equation.
And while you or your wonderfully supportive friends/parents/significant other may be more blind to and forgiving of compositional sins, editors are not. Whether editors have formal training or the kind that comes from the field, their eyes are keenly aware of subtle detail regarding the technical, aesthetic, and compositional aspects of an image. When thousands of images course through their inbox, you’d better believe all three of those aspects have to be on point to receive even a lingering pause. The harsh reality is that due to time constraints and an eye refined by years of experience, Emily (Emily Newman, editor of Once Wed) for example, decides whether to accept a submission in a matter of seconds.
So how do you get an editor to pause their scrolling and say, “Oh wow, that’s great!”
No doubt the technical prowess has to be there, and the aesthetics need to be a good match for the particular publication, but the composition of an image is a hugely make or break component.
Editors are just impartial, unattached, and incredibly efficient sledgehammers. While trying to predict what an editor is looking for aesthetically can be more like trying to hit a moving target, composition is an area most people actually agree on for the most part. Training your own eye to be able to recognize these principles will enable you to produce work that doesn’t unintentionally violate them, will give you the knowledge to self edit well, and ultimately will only increase your chances of getting published. No question.
As you begin to steep in the ideas of composition, you will begin to think about them more consciously and eventually less and less consciously as they become instinctual. (Though it’s never a bad idea to revisit them as you will inevitably gain deeper insights on later passes.)
And what’s even better, in my opinion, is that the principles of composition are the basics that make a strong foundation for all types of visual creation and will apply to every artistic endeavor you will ever encounter.
You could become one of those people with a “trained eye”.
A brand new online course on visual composition and design.
We take a closer look at what it takes to compose a great image, be it a daily snap for your Instagram feed,
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Written by Joy Thigpen, this course is not only for photographers,
but also anyone with an interest in composition and design,
such as florists, stylists, interior designers, and bloggers.