June 17, 2016

Imitating Sam Abell Composition Techniques…with my phone camera!

I read an amusing article awhile ago about the stages every photographer goes through. One of the stages mentioned was studying the work of other great photographers (the ones who have stood the test of time) and building a photo book collection. I’m there. I’m collecting the books. I’m reading and being inspired by the books, by the photographers. I’m combing the internets and finding neato lectures by the amazing photographers. And then I’m blogging what I’m learning – most recently I’ve done this with the work of Sam Abell .

This morning, as my husband and I were enjoying the low-tide, wider-than-usual beach, I decided to experiment with creating an image explicitly inspired by Sam Abell’s style and the compositional choices he often makes to define his own imagery. I had only my phone with me, so this was strictly an exercise in composition and not in camera settings. To quickly summarize, Abell emphasizes the following: Composing from “the back” (the horizon, the environment, the geography), inhabiting “the front”, heads & shoulders belong above the horizon, and students quip that “nothing touches”. More description and links to Abell’s teaching can be found in this blog post referenced above.

So here are the results from my morning’s experiment …

1.  Compose from the back.  Find/create your environment/horizon.


2.  Anticipate what will happen (my husband will climb on a rock; he always climbs on a rock).


3.  “Inhabit the front”. (I’m thinking about rock/sand detail and how best to showcase that).


4.  Remember that ideally Sam Abell likes to place people above the horizon. He also likes low angles and “looking through surfaces”. (in the above picture, Big Dude is above the ocean line horizon, but not above the mountain horizon … I need to figure out which is my main background horizon. I also decide that I want my foreground to be stronger, more dramatic, more like “looking thru a surface”.)


5.  Lastly, I decide to use my strong foreground “look thru rock surface” to block out the homes on the left.


6.  In the end, I think I probably prefer the 4th image that includes the homes as leading lines.

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