Composition – Time…

Light is one of the critical features of our capture. Time is also essential. Our picture is the result of a time-line. It’s a creation of the moment chosen to take the shot. The capture distils the events from a line of moments before the button press. It tells the story.

Spring Sunset • Some images appeal to something deep in us. Time is a part of that.

• Spring Sunset •
Some images appeal to something deep in us. Time is a part of that.

Primal drives are one type of story

Sometimes a picture is not special by virtue of the moment. A deep orange sunset sparks something in our primal memory. The power of the wave pounding the shore is as enduring as the rock of ages. We recognise these ideas. We replay them regularly through the images of popular culture. They are special because they are timeless. They touch something deep in our psyche. We see the same timelessness in manifest terror or nightmares.

Happiness or horror, timelessness and the impact of the moment come from within. They are triggered by the photograph. We recognise the point of some photographs from within the depth of ourselves. Perhaps it’s an emotional response. Maybe it’s from something deeper. In this, time is not a story. It is the depth of ourselves.

Time tells a story

If there is no primal appeal there must be something else in the image that makes the point. Time is the critical factor. Time tells a story.

When we look at an image we see a story of some sort. Sometimes it is a clear story; sometimes the story is an unsolved mystery. Whatever, we see some sort of ‘past’, ‘now’ and ‘future’ in the image. The capture of the moment is the point of the story itself. It is also the context in which it is seen. There are as many stories as there are pictures. Your picture sums up the story as you see it – at that moment. The element of time is the crux of the matter.

It’s not about the exposure

We should not confuse the element of time in the scene with the duration of the exposure. Shutter speed is important. It may affect the final artistic outcome or the way you tell the story. However, managing shutter speed is a technical decision or a tool to help the final portrayal. The story told, as a point in time, is separate from the exposure process.

Time in the picture goes beyond the moment

That moment, the capture, is not a merely an isolated incident. It is about something that is about to happen, or is happening or has happened. Do we wait for the clouds to clear, do we wait for the person walking into the frame, do we exclude them? A lot of decisions are made about the scene. Are we going to wait for the rain, do we arrive at sunset or dusk… decisions about the time of the scene. What is going to happen next? When do we take the shot? When will everything be in place?

These are questions from which we make decisions about the moment of the shot. They are also the final piece in the story we construct in the process of the shot. We make these decisions to tell the story more completely. If the finished picture is to have a powerful impact the story should be compelling and appealing.

Time is most obvious in landscapes but there’s more…

There is a story in everything. In landscapes we see the way time has taken its toll on the formation of the rock and the shape of the hills. In flowers there is the joy of the season and the renewal of life. In architecture there is the build itself and the story of the lives shared within its walls which establish is character. Natural history tells of the long drama of life. In fact the story that features in your picture is the essence of your capture. It is recognised by the viewer, even if only implicitly. It is that which creates the character and appeal of your picture.

The element of time is important to every photograph. It is essential for taking the shot – the exposure duration. It is more important as an element of composition. It is the story.

Time awareness

As one of the principle elements in the shot, time adds an essential dimension. Time needs the full attention of the photographer. When you compose your photograph make sure you feel the story. Be aware of its impact on the viewer.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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