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Experiments in Composition

Back in December I was not too far from my home town and I drove past another abandoned farmhouse that I knew I had to shoot as part of my on-going series on farmland and barns in Michigan.

An abandoned farm house with junk in front of it

One of my main goals with these photos was to challenge myself to think outside the box on my compositions. Many of my photos tend to follow very basic compositions like the Rule of Thirds and when viewed in succession, it can get obvious and boring to look at. On this outing, I wanted to experiment with more styles to see how they changed the story of the image.

Much of my inspiration came from Willem Verbeeck’s and Nick Carver’s YouTube channels. To be 100% honest, I don’t actually like a whole lot of their work. But, one thing I was able to take away from their work is their different approaches to composition. Verbeeck has this very odd way of framing photos that makes a lot of his work look like photos of nothing. But what’s really happening is the subjects of his photo are as obvious as they first seem. You can see many examples of what I’m talking about in this video.

This photo was very much inspired by Verbeeck

Where Verbeeck goes complex, Carver goes super simple. His more popular photos are all done on a panoramic medium format film camera with the subject of the image dead center in the frame. It’s an intriguing combination, as most panoramics are made with the intent of fitting in a very wide or tall subject into the entire frame without zooming out and potentially loosing the subject in the extra vertical space. Carver’s photos use the panoramic to instead draw their subject out of the frame even more by putting them in their empty context.

While not panoramic, the simple framing of the subject is inspired by Carver’s work. Although I wish I shot it with a shallower depth of field as the building in the background is distracting.

Like all of the images in this series, I used the Mamiya C330 medium format film camera with Ilford film. For being almost 50 years old, the Mamiya Sekor 80mm f/2.8 is astoundingly sharp when stopped down. Here’s a 1-to-1 crop on the upper-right on the tractor grill from the earlier image taken at f/11.

Click to see a full-size version

This is from a flatbed scan from a mid-level epson scanner and the film is still out-resolving the 45 mega pixel TIFF. This image has more detail in it than anything I’ve shot with my A7ii. Crazy!

I think the experiment was a resounding success as I feel the images I took on this outing are some of the best I’ve ever made. It wasn’t until I scanned the tractor image that I was sold on the idea that this series could really become something more. Additionally, after taking and reviewing these photos I think I have a better understanding of Verbeeck’s work. Things appear cut off or the subject is unclear because he’s trying, whether consciously or unconsciously, to photograph a feeling or even just a color rather than a subject.

If you like these photos you can them and more over on the project page. If you like my photography, you can follow me on instagram for my up to date work.