Composition - Know Your Subject

The Devil's Golf Course  /  Death Valley

The Devil's Golf Course / Death Valley

I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and got some free composition advice from none other than Bill Fortney. My first trip to Death Valley was thrilling ... and a little overwhelming. I only had two full days, which meant only two sunrises and two sunsets. I wanted to get the shots right.

What’s the subject?
— Bill Fortney
Kelby doesn’t send me to awful places like this!
— Bill Fortney

My first sunset plan was The Devil's Golf Course, a barren field pock-marked with hard, encrusted salt deposits. The deposits are very sharp - not the place to lose your footing. Imagine being cut and adding salt in the wound. 

I'd been there for about an hour and was struggling with the composition. The salt structures are cool looking and extend far into the distance. That evening, there were also some interesting clouds in the sky. I was succumbing to temptation and trying to "fit it all in".

Just before sunset, a photo group arrived, led by Bill Fortney and Jack Graham. We were all setup in roughly the same place, chit-chatting, waiting for the sun to drop over the distant hills. The group was ribbing Bill because I'd recognized him. For that brief hour, I was "his only fan." :)

At one point or another, a members of the group asked about composition. My ears perked up. Bill answered with a question - "What's the subject?". He paused a moment, then explained the subject is the salt deposits. That's what makes this location unique. And with that simple but spot-on advice, I no longer worried about capturing every interesting cloud in the sky. Everything else fell into place.

Now, when I'm struggling with a composition, I ask myself "What's the subject?".