We were photographing windmills in Sicily recently, and got lucky to have an incredible sunset as a background. There were two main windmills, and compositions revolved around where you placed the windmill in your shot. A question came up during this shoot….did one or two windmills look better? Many in our group thought one windmill made a better image. The bigger question at play was did you prefer an asymmetrical composition using one windmill, or a symmetrical composition using two windmills? And the answer was ‘what are you were trying to convey in the image’?
Here is the single windmill shot. Striking for sure, with a stunning sunset behind. The diagonal lines in the foreground and the singular windmill created out of balance, eye catching tension in the image. Your eye most likely would go up the lines to the windmill in the background…a dynamic shot….and asymmetrical composition.
The other choice was a wider angle shot that included both windmills. Initial impressions are the windmills are smaller and perhaps not as strong a shot. But to my eye this composition was more about what I saw in this scene. Personally I wanted to capture the serenity and tranquility of this coastal sunset scene. The mood was peaceful in my mind, and that is really what I wanted to say in my image. With that in mind I went for a symmetrical composition. The eye now moves through the scene to the windmills, and then goes back and forth between them. Not as much tension or eye movement with this composition, but a good way to capture tranquility and harmony in the scene.
Which image is better? You could take a poll and find equal votes for both images. If I sent this in to a photo editor, I’m guessing their opinions would vary as well (I’ve been behind the scenes at photo conferences evaluating images with nat geo editors, sports illustrated editors, Washington post editors…and they all had different opinions!). But since I wanted tranquility as my theme, I think two windmills were better than one. You get to make the final choice of which image you like better.
Always remember to ask yourself what you are trying to really communicate in your photograph. I often just get focused on the ‘getting the shot’, but forget what I am really trying to do with my image. Think beyond the snapshot, and remember why you are creating the photograph. Sometimes you capturing a concept, mood or theme, and other times you are telling a story. This will direct you how to compose your image.