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Composition and Forms

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

David Hoptman: Photographer, Educator, and founder of Photo creative Workshops Explains Compositional Challenges Regarding Forms

David Hoptman professional photographer/artist, founder of photo creative workshops now teaches photo compositional skills online. He has lived in Santa Fe New Mexico for most of his adult life. Previously David was teaching photography at the Santa Fe University of art and design, prior to that living in Italy, David taught photography at two colleges in Florence. He has created a new style of teaching that works both in person, as well as online. “The idea is to begin to perceive the environment as forms, dropping the labels and seeing things without preconditioning” says David.

David sets the foundation for understanding forms within photocompositions as follows:

Forms are the fundamental matrix that we as human beings use to express ourselves. Forms are recognized musically, literarily, and dimensionally. Form, color, light, texture, sound, and the written word are all part of the way that we as creative beings can directly communicate with one another on many levels. The arts are the apex of human evolution, and form is the vocabulary and primary means of communication.

Harmonious photographic compositions are determined by how we perceive and interpret our immediate reality. As one moves through their daily life with common regularity it’s not uncommon to become oblivious to the beauty surrounding us and hence take for granted the uniqueness of the very forms that populate our lives. Forms are how our physical reality expresses itself. The incalculable diversity in which forms interact with each other has created a mutual interdependency that we as human beings base our reality on. The interplay of light and form affects how we react and interact within our environment. Any given location will present photographers with numerous choices as how to best arrange forms within the photo rectangular format.

“Learning compositional skills is fine-tuning your perceptions to the forms around you”.

“Image making is understanding that you must compromise, give, take, and make fluid decisions along the way until you release the shutter”.

David then explains how fundamental light quality affects mood and composition:

While out searching on your next photographic journey slow down and focus on the interrelationships of forms and how they are depicted by the quality of light. Light plays an essential role when conveying mood and feeling. Cloudy or rainy days are portrayed by soft light due to overcast skies while sunny days, blue skies, and puffy white clouds create contrasty lighting conditions, deep shadows, and bright highlights. Each scenario casts a different mood and response by viewers and photographers alike.

“Every composition is a creative journey: Embrace the unexpected.”

David explains how to dynamically change the relationships between forms:

While tuning into the environment, move side to side and forward and back. Notice how each step changes your relationships to all the forms within your environment. Stand in one place and focus on a form nearby and move side to side and notice how the adjacent forms change relatively to the nearby form in front of you. Now do the same thing going forward and backward and you will see the relationships of the other forms change relative to your perspective, then go higher and lower and notice how the relationships of forms change. Search for a location where you can keep the forms within your rectangular format from overlapping with each other by creating space between forms and their adjacent forms. When forms unnecessarily conjunct the integrity of each form is compromised, the beauty of the form is interrupted, and the purity of the form is destroyed, and without a doubt will be picked up by the viewer. Chopping forms off on the edge of your frame, or jumbling forms within your rectangular format creates visual dissonance for the viewer. The compositional goal is to create a harmonious relationship between all the forms within your composition.

“Maintaining the purity of each form is your goal in creating poignant imagery”

Shadows go unnoticed unless one is hot and looking to cool off on a summer day although they hold as much weight as mountains, buildings, clouds, or any other form within a two-dimensional composition.

Photography is a journey of search and discovery, the more you can stay focused the better chance you will have of landing on the best place to make a harmonious composition.

There is a dynamic between the mind and forms perceived, allowing emotions, perceptions, and memories to be transmuted into a substrate where creativity and imagination in tandem, with learned craft and skills, facilitate the creative process.

Observe with your eyes. Perceive with your mind’s eye

David then explains how important slowing down is to create a good composition:

Perceptive skills, Imagination, intuition are foundational qualities needed by everyone striving to make harmonious insightful photographic imagery. Almost anyone can learn to incorporate these conceptual and insightful aspects of perception into the creative process. The key is to slow down, be in the moment, and understand how to work with relationships of space and forms.

David Hoptman’s Compositional Mantra: Stop, Look, Focus:

  • Don’t Multitask

  • Stop=slow down

  • Look=tune into your environment

  • Focus=on the moment

Learn more about Photo Creative Workshops on their official website:

Follow David Hoptman on social media:

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