We speak to Me­lanie Van­den­brouck, a cu­ra­tor of art at Royal Museums Green­wich and judge for the In­sight Astron­omy Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year com­pe­ti­tion, about the art of com­pos­ing an im­age

Sky at Night Magazine - - ASTROPHOTO COMPOSITIO­N -

What el­e­ments make a good photo com­po­si­tion?

MV: I think there are three things per­haps to think about in the first in­stance. The first is how you are go­ing to ar­range the vis­ual el­e­ments into a pic­ture. More often than not try to avoid sym­me­try un­less there is a rea­son for that sym­me­try.

The sec­ond thing is about fo­cus and the way that you want the eye to be led into the im­age. Hav­ing sev­eral points of fo­cus means your eye can be led into the im­age, and it’s not a kind of static ex­pe­ri­ence, but it’s mov­ing from one point to an­other. That be­ing said I would avoid hav­ing too many be­cause then it be­comes quite messy and in­stead of your eye mov­ing around the im­age you end up hav­ing your eye dart­ing around.

I think that’s where the fram­ing comes into play. Some­times the fram­ing will help you have a very clear sense of fo­cus. Not just about what are the main points of the pic­ture but how your eye is led to read that fo­cus and that move­ment.

How can im­agers im­prove their com­po­si­tions?

MV: I think the first way would be orig­i­nal­ity. I will be im­me­di­ately drawn to some­thing that looks dif­fer­ent. It’s about find­ing that way that dif­fer­ent el­e­ments nat­u­rally bal­ance each other or align with each other. And I guess this is some­thing that you only de­velop through con­stantly look­ing at what other peo­ple have done and why it’s in­ter­est­ing.

Do you have any tips on how to in­spire that in­no­va­tion?

MV: We had a great pic­ture [in the In­sight Astron­omy Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year com­pe­ti­tion] last year that felt so tex­tured and ab­stract, it looked like a paint­ing, it looked like a Turner. When I see some­thing like this, or like last year’s Sir­ius pic­ture [shown above right, which won the 2016 Stars and Neb­u­lae cat­e­gory], it seems ob­vi­ous to me that those pho­tog­ra­phers were look­ing at other fields. They’re not just think­ing about as­tro­nom­i­cal im­agery, they’re not just think­ing about cap­tur­ing the ob­ject – they are sub­con­sciously or con­sciously think­ing about other art forms. So per­haps I’d in­vite as­tropho­tog­ra­phers to go to art gal­leries and look at how painters com­pose a land­scape; look at, I don’t know, Mark Rothko and his ab­stract pic­tures all about gra­da­tions of tones; per­haps look at tex­tiles or sculp­ture. Try to get a dif­fer­ent sense of how the Uni­verse can be pic­tured, and en­joyed.

Ev­ery dot in this shot is Sir­ius – the colours are caused by tur­blu­ence in Earth’s at­mos­phere

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