David Johnston

Obstacles to a Clean Composition

David Johnston
Duration:   9  mins

Obstacles can detract from the main subject of your photograph. These can prevent you from achieving a clean composition. In this premium video lesson, Outdoor Photography Guide’s pro photographer David Johnston takes you to southern Utah and shows you his unedited compositions that include distracting objects.

David has captured multiple exposures of scrub brush, a complicated subject because of the challenge to create a clean composition. When shooting scrub brush, it’s difficult to locate the main subject. The obstacle in this series is a white patch of snow. As you know, brightness can deter from the central subject. A clean composition controls the areas of where you want your viewer to focus.

In his series, David finds another composition that concentrates on the main subject, a patch of dark trees. However, chaotic spots of snow still detract from the clean composition. Next, David tries ICM, intentional camera movement, to go abstract. This results in an impressionistic pattern of trees. But again, there is no central focus. Next, he exposes his ICM images at 1/10th second to balance the blur and sharpness. He selects a slightly blurred image that still shows separation between the trees and yet results in a painterly abstract photograph but with clean composition.

In Lightroom, David experiments with cropping to eliminate distracting obstacles. He tries dodging and burning but decides to keep his image unedited. To eliminate obstacles in difficult compositions in the field, you want to expose multiple frames. This will help you to achieve a clean composition when you edit.

When you work in the field, look closely at your frame and decide what distracts from the main subject, then edit those out in the camera.