Painting Composition: How to Use a Viewfinder

1. Why Using a Viewfinder Can Help You Get the Best Composition

Often when a painter is faced with a scene, there’s simply so much that’s appealing it’s hard to choose what to focus on. This is where a viewfinder comes in useful, as it helps you focus on particular parts of the scene, enabling you to decide what will make the best composition, both in terms of focus and format.

If you look at the landscape in the photo above (view a larger version), you’ll quickly see the potential for various landscape paintings. By using a viewfinder to isolate just a part of the landscape and to frame it in a particular way, it’s easier to judge whether a composition is pleasing or not.

2. Use a Viewfinder to Crop Out the Foreground

For instance, you could crop out all the foreground, including the whole town, for a composition that focuses on the mountains. As a composition it’s strong, yet for a landscape painting doesn’t give you much of a feeling for the area.

3. Use a Viewfinder to Consider the Possibilities

If the town is included, as here, the whole feeling of the composition changes. Suddenly the mountains aren’t the primary focus, but a background. The town and the farmlands dominate, yet there isn’t a strong focal point to draw the viewer into the painter. As a composition it’s rather mundane.

4. How About a Square Format?

If you move the viewfinder to the right, so that the mountain runs off the left edge of the painting and the open farmland runs from the foreground off into the distance to the right, you get a much more rural scene. Yes, the town is there, but the focus is on the farmlands and the feeling of distance they create as they vanish into the horizon. As a composition, it is quite pleasing, but you’d need to decide whether you were happy with the very square format.

5. How About a Tall Format?

ow does the feeling of the landscape change when it’s cropped in a very tall, portrait format? The farmland is interrupted by the town, then continues behind it, but instead of stretching into the distance, creating a feeling of space, it is ended by the mountains. Overall there’s less of a feeling of space and depth, but the tall format does add a sense of grandeur and height to the mountains.

As you can see, using a viewfinder helps to focus your attention on what would be in a specific composition by framing a specific part of a scene. What you ultimately decide to use will, of course, depend on your personal likes and dislikes.