The need for calm

My Ardnamurchan trip was 5 days of alternating calm, windless days and stormy days. The contrast had never struck me before but on calm days I too can be calm and then thoughtful and creative. Yet on windy days I struggle to take any images and have little creativity. It is as if the noise (in the broadest sense) of the wind and the resulting waves and blowing sand are blocking my ability to be in the “moment”.

On calm days, when the water reflects like a mirror, then I too become reflective.


Consequently, it is not a surprise that my best images are also very quiet, usually sparse and require thought and imagination to interpret them. Very few of my images show any indication of rapid movement. In fact, when I have movement in the scene I am most likely to use a long shutter speed to slow it down. To make it calm.



I am often drawn to “quirky”, man-made elements in the landscape, things that appear out of place. In my thinking they encourage the viewer to ask “why?” and to create their own narratives about the reasoning and purpose of their existence. Here is a perfect example.


It looks like a bus shelter but why so close to the sea and with views over to distant islands? They are, in fact, Rhum and Eigg.

As usual this was an “intuitive” composition and ,as usual with a stong element on a “third” and the horizon roughly 1/2 way up the frame.

I find the repeated rectangles of the post, both windows and the reflections to be the most interesting aspects of the image, whilst the rest is just a canvas for these geometric shapes. However, in studying the image I am interested in trying a few other compositions by cropping the original.


This square format works but feels quite compressed and compromises the openness and calm of the original. This made me think that the roof, being such a dark element was not helping the mood. Hence:


I think this works better than the original. It feels even more open yet the rectangles are even stronger within the design.


Finally I tried another square crop. Again the openness is reduced and now the horizon has been raised. I think these are negative steps and my final choice of composition is the 3rd one.

More Intuitive Composition exercises

The following were taken at a fishing pool on the River Shiel, Acherackle. I show them in the order taken. Each is an attempt to improve the composition of the previous image but not done with any great deliberation at the time. So they are all largely intuitive.

This image has the typical elements that excite me. Man-made structures providing strong, graphic highlights in a natural scene. The whole is “prettier” than my usual images due to the strong autumnal colours.

The imaginary line from the left end of the bottom left fence to the diagonal walkway as it goes up and right was what I initially saw and I built the remaining composition around it. This imaginary line leads directly to the most colourful part of the image.

Whilst subdued in both light and colour the left bank of the river also has man-made elements including the garden bench.


Moving in closer I was trying to make the image more graphic with the much stronger lines of the walkway. The garden bench now provides a more obvious additional element.

However I do not find it such a satisfying composition as the strong lines discourage the eye from investigating the far bank and the distant hill. The constructional details of the walkway are now more obvious and, whilst telling their own story, further limit the eye from the rest of the image.

Moving to the left and a little further back from the walkway moves the bench to being a stronger element on the left and allows the walkway to provide a zigzag line going into the picture and leading to the distant scene via the autumn colours. Also the shadow of the left bank now enters the image from the bottom left corner providing another lead-in line to the horizon. See below.


This was the final composition and I am pleased with it although the first image seems to show the fence and walkway as being less significant, more fragile and fitting with my theme around the temporality of the vernacular landscape.

Design to Narrative to Meaning

On reviewing my recent and past images I am starting to see different paths towards my compositions.

My “intuitive” compositions appear to come from my seeing a “design” within the scene, an arrangement of elements with a balance of light, dark, size and weight.



There is little or no active thought required for these compositions. However, they are often triggered by memories of other photographers’ work. The top image here definitely owes a lot to Robert Adam’s Prairie book.

A second route is when something within the scene triggers a narrative within me. Here my composition is more deliberate and is aimed at helping viewers to also see the narrative.

Almost invariably this “something” is man-made and may look quirky or out of place. Below is an example of a house near Uig, on Lewis, which, when seen from this distance, remote, over water and with its obvious large size reminded me of an Agatha Christie murder mystery location. This was helped by the vaguely Cornish look to the landscape and the lighting. Hence I arranged the composition to emphasize those attributes and hopefully to convey the kind of narrative I had seen.


Sometimes, when the object is very much “out of place” I go further and look for ways of making it appear as if it is actually a deliberate “installation” that might have been placed there by an artist like Gerry Barry or Cornelia Konrad. This is the only time when I am really using composition to give a “meaning” to the scene. Below are 2 examples.