Saturday, November 14, 2015

Alain Briot on Composition

So here's an interesting piece: How This Photograph Was Made. It's probably not interesting in the way Alain means it to be, though.

In the piece we see Alain's process. He goes around shooting a bunch of material, and then tries to make sense of it after the fact.

Then, to my astonishment, he uses the Golden Spiral, Golden Ratio, and Rule of Thirds overlays in Lightroom to judge the success of his compositions. This is a guy who actually went to Art School. You'd think he'd know better.

As an aside, some things I've noted earlier in this blog: all this Golden Whatever, Rule of Thing stuff is very new and only photographers pay the slightest attention to any of it. Because it is all BS.

Having followed this process, Alain winds up with what appears to my eye to be a jumbled mess.

This strikes me as an object lesson in bad working methods. Shooting without knowing where you're going generates raw material that isn't going anywhere. Then if you judge your results with ridiculous overlays you're sure to wind up nowhere.

I can pretty much visualize how the composition overlays are focusing Alain's attention on the things he imagines are important, and taking it away from the pointless mess that makes up the bulk of the frame. He's got the hotel and the battleship in the right spots, he's got some foreground and some background. What else is there?

Then, hilariously, Alain drones on for a few hundred words about not doing what he's just done.

I don't much like Alain's work, but this seems particularly egregious. I cannot help but wonder if this is all a bit of satire, an intentional demonstration of terrible methods. Alain actually can make a well organized frame, albeit still not a very interesting one.


  1. I had the same reaction. Sorry to say but if Alain Briot really did study Beaux Arts, he surely must have majored in kitsch. He appears to have made a major business success out of selling his eye-watering landscapes to grannies visiting the Grand Canyon, but there's nothing there I see as (fine) art.

  2. Interestingly, he says that artistic composition is the focus of his current research, but he can already sell you a dvd on how to do it! Luckily he doesn't work in, say, aircraft design.

    I confess to a brief fascination with books about patterns in composition and design, but gave it up when I realized that none of the overlaid patterns had a meaningful correspondence with the cited images. Briot overlays several patterns but the picture elements are always just in the general area of the lines by happenstance. In addition he completely overlooks the fact that the strongest line in all of his images is the horizon!

    So much work for what amount to a holiday snap!

  3. The rudimentary layout of his website demonstrates the level of his artistic professionalism...... I wasn't even tempted to go for the 40 free e-books :-)

    Came here through Kirk Tuck's VSL. Nice blog amolitor.

  4. So thanks to you I spent my last waking hour last night going through my photos and trying on the Photoshop overlays. To my pleasure very few fit the Rule of Thirds - which I like to think of as "the rule of dull composition." Of perhaps 150 pictures about 6 or 8 were a good fit. All but 2 of those were standing portraits, either 3/4 or full length, whatever that means. There were 2 portraits where the dominant eye was almost perfectly on the grid, but I'll allow myself 2. A good many more photos could make the dreaded rule with a little mental stretching - the kind thinking one might do if one were looking for pictures to fit the rule - but most of those were closer to the Golden Mean grid.

    A good many photos did, in one way or another, come close to the Golden Mean, which surprised me. And a large number, maybe the majority, could be aligned with the Triangles grid, often very precisely. Something that I have never consciously thought about while making photos, and indeed was only vaguely aware of. And which I will now have to somehow purge from my mind.

    I am not sure this means a damn thing, but since you inspired the exercise I thought I would share.

    I will accept your opinions on the Briot article - I tried to read it but didn't make it very far. (The internet is sorely in need of copy editors.) Sadly, his kind of thinking goes over very well with beginner photographers and the workshop crowd as it offers simple concrete solutions to complex and intuitive problems.

    I have been involved with serious photography - commercial and art - for more than 40 years and think I have heard more references to the rule of thirds in the last year than in the previous 39 put together. I am sure "this too shall pass," but I hope it will pass quickly.

  5. Briot may have something interesting to say but I can't get pass the stolid and murky writing to find out...

  6. The importance of geometry lies not in structure, but in substance.

  7. I once thought that all the articles on Luminous Landscape were top quality stuff. Then after reading all these articles one after another, with the usual final sentence proposing to subscribe to the author's workshops I began to smell decay.

    Mr Briot in particular writes like he really believes that what he does is *fine* art. I am glad I'm not the only one being uncomfortable with this attitude towards photographs.

  8. I spent a lovely evening listening to Eleanor Catton read from her novel The Luminaries. She said 'being an artist is about self discovery'. It struck me how few photographs fulfill that measure. I can't understand what Alain Briot is discovering about himself in his work.

  9. It's strange to find this blog rather randomly and see so many things I agree with (like this piece) but have not been able to spell out for myself. Subscribed :)