Mastering Composition by Richard Garvey-Williams (book review).

Remember me writing last month that I got a second book focusing on photographic composition and saying there isn’t much difference between the two mediums, well apart from artistic ability. I do wonder if anyone has ever gauged just how well artists do as first-time photographers?

After all, we already have an eye for composition. I didn’t really start using a camera and then digital until a decade or so back now and even so, only in a minor way. If you are going to do original paintings, then it makes sense to do your own photography than rely on someone else’s composition unless you’re relying totally on your imagination and good pencil skills.

Something that struck me here was when author Richard Garvey-Williams in ‘Mastering Composition’ dealt with optical illusions, something we only do intentionally if at all in painting. Incidentally, if you can look up the vase that looks like two heads facing each other and vice versa, see if you can match my heightened senses and see if it’s your left eye that does the most work.

Watching this with my artist’s eyes on, there are many lessons to learn, especially about applied perspective. When it comes to getting the best photo though, it does look like getting the snap done and applying a digital crop later to make it look its best. Inadvertently, Garvey-Williams, without saying so, makes a good argument for various digital grids to test whether you’ve made the best solutions to the picture crop.

I think I would argue with him about whether artists always use the freedom to include what we like in a painting simply because some artists do like to take a snapshot of real life in them. More so, as later in the book he does the same thing himself with digital software. As many of the photos shown are linear or straight on, I could argue that photographers should look for unusual angles or get some height over the subject matter as well as layering the composition.

Rather interestingly, I found I was getting ahead on the subject in the early chapters as Garvey-Williams proceeds into cropping and each a little digital tweak to a duck picture on page 65 which goes against his comment that only artists can adjust pictures. In the digital age, adjusting photographs is a lot easier but I do think the photographer needs to be honest to the subject and be careful not to fake or adjust things digitally too much.

It’s rather interesting seeing how effective a photo, clipped or otherwise, is by flipping it. Software like Paintshop can do this very easily and cheaper than the more expensive brand and you don’t have to digest magazines for all the tips. From a painting POV, we look at a picture in progress in a mirror as a means to spot errors. It isn’t until page113 that Garvey-Williams actually mentions digital software but none by name until page 159 with Photoshop. Granted one doesn’t want to tie people to any particular software and we’ve seen how people do that with the most expensive available but even so, a bit more of an explanation of certain functions and the numbers to try might have been useful.

After all, I doubt if all of you out there have a good eye for colour and balance, let alone know there’s going to be a difference between what you see on the screen and what is printed simply because there is a difference in pixels, videocard and printer, although oddly there isn’t that much difference between having 4 or 5 inks. Certainly, the likes of filtering or changing colours or even going sepia for an old-fashioned look needs software.

Although this book isn’t under our normal remit, it is for the geeks out there who want to improve their photographing or art skills or combine the two in composition. Although I’ve been critical above, there is a lot of good stuff here so don’t dismiss it in the long river website’s offer of two books together.

GF Willmetts

February 2021

(pub: Ammonite Press. 175 page illustrated indexed square softcover. Price: I pulled my copy for £ £14.95 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78145-063-5)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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