Composition: Connecting Photography and Music

Composition: Connecting Photography and Music
composition ·ˌkämpəˈziSH(ə)n · noun: the nature of something’s ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up.

Find a photographer and you have a pretty good chance of finding a musician and vice versa. They don’t all shine as brightly in both fields, but there is most definitely an overlap. Canon Explorer of Light Roberto Valuenzuela is also a classical guitarist. His series of Picture Perfect books approaches photography in a way very similar to how he learned to play, providing an excellent example of how photography and music seem to mesh.

Over and over again, I meet shutterbugs who have more than a love of music, but also some measure of ability with a musical instrument. What exactly is the connection between these two crafts? In doing a little research, a found this post by Scott Bourne on I think he sums it up quite nicely when he says:

“…I also think theres value in the math, the practice, the discipline that goes into becoming a good musician. All of these traits are also valuable in photography.”

Music has keys, chords, measures, and terminology which together form a language through which a composer can tell a story. Photography has a similar language made up of things like stops, angles, thirds, and color temperature. Behind all of this, math plays a major roll, defining the difference between major chords and lighting ratios. It informs us what tempo to play through time signature and where to focus with aperture and depth of field.

In both cases, it is a veritable, mathematical dance. The magic lies in the details. Miss the note by a half-step and you stand out like a sore thumb…or slip by with a chord that can change the mood of your song. If your focus is off, what was a “rule of thirds” composition may fall flat or may suggest a golden ratio, shifting how the viewer perceives the tale.

Composition, whether intentional or accidental, controls how your audience experiences your work. This is why practice, practice, practice is so important to honing your craft.

I’d dust off my saxophone now, but I should probably wait for this round of dental work to get wrapped up.


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