I often think of a photo composition as a combination of shapes linked together, like jigsaw puzzle pieces within the rectangle of the camera view finder.
I call this blocking, borrowing a term from theatre production where the director organizes the actors on stage with the lighting so that the audience has a specific, cohesive two-dimensional view of the production from their seats.
A photograph is a two dimensional rendition of what our eyes see in three dimensions. In reducing a landscape to two dimensions we effectively create shapes, or blocks, where the three-dimensional objects stack upon themselves. I sometimes tell my students to look at the scene squinting through one eye to get a sense of shapes.
It is great fun composing through the viewfinder, carefully adjusting the camera angle to frame just the exact elements. The four edges of the viewfinder define the relationship of various shapes and hold them within the boundary of a composition. It is yet another reason to use a tripod: to carefully consider exactly how to block out the shapes.
On a recent shoot at San Francisco Botanical Garden I found this tapestry of Aloes in the succulent garden.
Using a telephoto lens I can tighten up the composition a bit, now playing off the underlying shapes that I have blocked out with the four edges of the frame.
Before and After Slider
Here is another view of the garden where a telephoto lens really helps to stack up the shapes, taking advantage of the repetitive explosions spiky foliage.
There is an entire chapter, Shape and Space, in my garden photography e-book Think Like A Camera. $9.95 in the Store.