AN EYE FOR COMPOSITION
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
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