Born in 1949, award-winning photographer Huntington Witherill has been a fine art photographer since 1970. Witherill was fortunate enough to have worked with the famous Ansel Adams, among other notable photographers like Wynn Bullock, Steve Crouch, and Al Weber. Over the past 50 years, Witherill has learned a lot about photography. He recently chatted with Marc Silber of Advancing Your Photography to discuss composition.
In the video below, Silber asks Witherill the core areas he considers in terms of composition. Witherill replies, ‘Well, I think as an overriding sort of mantra for composition, I always like to refer to the way Edward Weston described composition, as being the strongest way of seeing.’ Witherill pays attention to everything in a scene, rather than what attracted him to the scene in the first place. When out shooting, it’s common to be drawn to a specific element of a scene. However, when making a composition, you don’t want to ignore everything in the scene. ‘Finding the strongest way of seeing is really, to my way of thinking, intellectualizing within myself what it is that attracted me to the scene in the first place. And then, doing my best to include all of that within the photograph itself and eliminate everything else out of the photograph,’ Witherill says.
In the video above, Witherill refers to an article he wrote in 2019, ‘The Strongest Way of Seeing.’ In this article, Witherill writes, ‘When it comes to the art of creating successful photographs, formulating an effective composition must surely be at (or near) the top of the list in terms of relative importance.’ He goes on to say when discussing whether or not there are prescribed rules of composition which could always prove successful, ‘As it also turns out, knowing where best to point your camera requires a skill set whose precepts appear to be instinctively derived, rather than intellectually prescribed. What might work in one situation can often prove disastrous in another. As such, employing a formulaic approach to composition will, more often than not, prove ineffectual.’
However, that is not to say that trying to improve your composition or that learning more about composition is a fool’s errand. While Witherill doesn’t believe that composition is a skill that can be taught in a rote fashion, he believes there are steps you can take to make it easier to ‘see’ composition in the field. Witherill likes to squint at a scene, which makes it easier to see the overall shapes and arrange a composition, as you are no longer able to focus on the finer details.
To learn more of Huntington Witherill’s tips for composition, watch the full video above. To view more of Witherill’s work, visit his website. For more videos from Marc Silber, visit the Advancing Your Photography YouTube channel.