Top Photographer Dreams of Mastering Composition

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As an update to last weeks post – The votes are still being tallied for your suggestions on where I should go on my Top Photographer Dream vacation.

If you haven’t already voted for one of the 8 suggested places, please help me by clicking on the link and choosing one. Voting has been extended through the end of March, and the winning location will be announced April 6th. To date, Alaska and Santa Fe seem to be the front runners!

Top Photographer Dream of Mastering Composition

The main reason I like to travel alone on some photography trips is simple — I am on my own time.

Photographers like to wander. We hate to rush. We wait for things like the “right sunlight.” We may come back to a specific vantage point 3 or 4 times at a certain time of day just to get ‘the shot.’

This type of vacation approach tends to be boring and downright frustrating for companions who may not understand why we want to do all of that.

So in preparation for my dream vacation, I’ve started reading a series of articles from — The most recent article, “The Art of Seeing: An Exercise in Photo Composition” By Paul Faust caught my attention.

Here he highlights the two basic components of photography — how something is composed within the frame, and how exposure settings enhance the image itself.

Composition of an image is the easier of the two for me. It’s about having a “good eye” and knowing what will visually make a good photograph. I can’t remember ever having to learn that. It was something I just knew how to do.

Armstrong Redwood Forest, Sonoma County, California

Image exposure for me, however, has not come so easily!

“Successful” exposure detail in my photography images has always been about luck, fiddling with settings until I see a result I ultimately settle for, or by letting the camera automatically tell me what settings to default to – what Faust calls the “PHD Feature” – (Push Here Dummy!)

My growth towards becoming a top photographer means I need to put myself in situations that force me to learn how to adjust for exposure — understand my cameras’ settings and wait — take images on purpose and not just continue my random acts of spinning the exposure wheel approach.

Faust talks about an exercise he learned years ago on how he strengthened his image composition and exposure skills. He writes,

You take one camera body, one lens, one memory card – and you pick one subject to shoot. That’s it! Then go out and take your time capturing images. You are intentional about each shot you take, making notes about the (exposure) settings you used, and why.

Also be conscious of your point of view (composition) — could you move a few steps to the right or left? How about laying down or climbing up a ladder? Be aware of the entire frame, not just the main subject matter. Watch for “distracting items” in your backgrounds and foregrounds, and be selective about the images you keep at the end of the day.

He doesn’t state a rule about what lens to take, but he does note that the bigger growth opportunity will come from using one of your wider angle ones, because you will have to work to get things right with the larger field of view.

This challenge takes a lot of patience and can feel frustrating at times, trust me – but I’m up for it.

Until next photo,


Remy’s dream is creating opportunities for photography showings and public displays of her work.

  • Remy Gervais, Top Photographer

    Hi Farah….thanks for your comment. I would suggest you go into a local camera store and put as many different kinds in your hands…technically speaking, at our ‘ experience level’ cameras have very similar features. Some point and shoot cameras take amazing photos and have alot of the same features as SLR cameras do. When i bought my DSLR I held 4 different ones in my hand, and the one I liked the most in terms of ease and feel and price was the Olympus. I’m not in the majority, however – as Cannon and Nikon are the more popular consumer choices. If you go to an actual camera store (not a box chain store) they are trained specifically on each brand and model, and can be very helpful in guiding you in the right direction for you. I hope the answer wasn’t too vague, it really is about preference! Please let us know what you decide ok?! xo Rem

  • Farah

    hey im a soon-to-be-photographer what camera do you advise me to buy. I want one where i can customize the color ….of the picture? BTW i love your pictures!!!

  • Rem – love the analogy. I would have to say composition – and thanks for making me think :)

    – Heather

  • Remy G

    Hey anything I can do to help keep things stimulating! lol xox R

  • Jayne Speich, Financial Assistance

    Hi Remy,

    Two things I love about this post. One, your question inviting us to think about composition and exposure and how they apply in our non-camera lives. Two, your explanation of our own process, to guide us through an unfamiliar thought. Genius!

    I am completely stumped about which one is more my challenge, so maybe it’s both. That’s okay! I love having a new puzzle to think through.

    thanks for making my Sunday morning so intellectually stimulating!


  • Bruce

    I’m jumping off the deep end here, but I love camera firmware and physics, thinking and talking about them :) You might go back to manual for a while if you really feel uncertain about exposure. f/numbers, ISO settings, and exposure times haven’t changed since roughly the 1950s (or earlier) – many photography books cover this stuff well. Learn these first, then learn “your camera” after you know these.

    I have a friend that teaches photography at a nearby university and also know several people who chose to study it seriously. New students seem to always start with manual exposure, for good reason. That is simple physics, plus a vision of what proper exposure should be. You can learn that relatively fast, since the camera is not doing a fancy dance underneath you. Heck, they always started out with slide film, because print film added another layer of complexity :).

    Once you start using the camera’s adjustments (e.g., automatic metering, exposure modes, etc), you get all the complexity of the firmware engineers’ imagination about exposure to learn at the same time as the physics. I’d recommend against doing that at first. Using spot-metering would probably be OK, since that *should* be implemented without too much complication.

    After you feel solid and comfortable with exposure physics, then start learning what your camera does with all of its options. Now you learn whatever the firmware geeks for your camera developed – which may be pretty smart, or not :).

    If you are already past simple exposure physics and are onto the complexities of your camera – well bravo, but at least you know the problems are complicated firmware, not your understanding of exposure :) It is a question of practice, but like any practice, thoughtful repetition makes all the difference.


  • Kalle Koponen

    i find it suprising that you would think exposure more demandiing than composition. for me it is the other way round. achieving intended exposure is basically technology that can be learned. Achieving images that extract more than a yawn is The Challenge.
    You will reach intended exposure when you understand the difference between how the light meter sees things and how human brain interprets a live situation. There is a big difference and thats why your camera has all those adjustments that you use to help it. Camera is rather limimited compared to you.
    if you have a look at my website and check out my latest images from the Carnival in Cologne, you will probably not see many images that would have been exposed with the default values the camera suggests. There are scenes with extreme sunlight and scenes in dark bars, and I am constantly fiddling with the exposure. For the most part I think the exposures are well executed, if I may say so myself. However, you can easily argue that several images are badly composed, boring or both.
    So I do have my doubts if you claim to be a natural composer just freshing up the technicalities. I believe technical skills are the easy ones.

    • Remy Gervais, Top Photographer

      Kalle, once again, I thank you for your comments here! I will check out your webiste – had no idea you were headed to Cologne! I’m far from expert in either exposure or composition, I guess having a good eye for something is alot more fun, exciting, and challenging in a good way, than going after the technicalities like you mentioned. I did like what you said up there about humans vs the light readers – I will have to explore that more with you some time. I don’t think it will be hard to learn, I guess my lack of knowledge as to how to think about it (like you just said up there) makes the difference. The numbers, settings and stops now have a context for what I’m adjusting for. Where is the book that explains it like THAT! lol thanks again for your note, Kalle – my best, Rem

  • I love his advice – it’s how I approach a blog post –

    You pick one subject to write about. That’s it! Then take your time writing your post. You are intentional about the title you use, making notes about any keywords you use, and why.

    Also be conscious of your point of view – you need to have a strong one when you are a blogger and the bolder that point of view, the better. How about arguing for or against something? Be aware of your emotions, not just the main subject matter. Strong emotions are good. Vulnerability is good. Anger is good. Watch for “distracting items” in your writing like !!! and slang, and be selective about the images you decide use with your post.

    HA! See! Great post Remy. I think your photographers will find real value in this!


    • Remy Gervais, Top Photographer

      yea and it only took me about an hour to write, soup to nuts. Thanks for your feedback…xox Rem

  • Kathy Lingo

    Okay, trying not to swear here–I just wrote a lengthy comment and since I forgoet my e mail address, it sent me back to a blank form again! :o)))

    I know I ended the lengthy comment with thanking you for being my Facebook friend. I so enjoy watching your career and life unfold, your humor, your friends and love your photos!

    Always, always, it is exposure that has been the LUCK factor or DEFAULT to automatic–and I would like to go back and study that further–but have not set aside the time.

    It seems to me composition is “in the eyes of the beholder” of the camera. For as long as I can remember, I have been framing what I see (as is pleasing to me). I sent my daughter-in-law into a semi-retired old photographer, to ask for an apprenticeship to further her learning and he immediately began a critique of her cropping that flaunted the rules. And yet some of us love her unusual take on things, her eye for detail and her cropping that emphasizes a specific feature.

    I not only missed this article (nicely done! And two of my fav. pictures of yours), but the voting last time around so glad to have this opportunity.

    So excited about your trip–about the stories and especially the pictures that come back from it.


    • Remy Gervais, Top Photographer

      Kathy I feel the same about our friendship and I’m glad my friends humor you! They are quite special. I’ve worked hard to surround myself with good people! You included.

      Exposure is my learning opportunity! Letting go of my resistance to know it already to have the patience to actually learn it. Its all trial and error after reading so many ‘technical’ manuals…so yep, that’s the plan…and thanks for voting! xox Rem

  • Rod


    Well done.

    Interesting life insight. Using a wider lens, forcing one to take in and work with a larger point of view. Yet staying focused on what is your actual target.

    Me, strength in my career is composition, I know my profession; I’m working on getting better at the exposure part. But like every good “photographer”, I get my shot~!

    Thank you for an inspiring piece.

    Since the voting has been extended does that mean we can “vote early vote often”?

    • Remy Gervais, Top Photographer

      I think you can vote as many times as you would like. And leave it to you to make a life/career analogy. Really I was just talking about cameras! lol :) Thanks for the note. I’m glad it inspired you! ox Rem