Photograph above taken at an American Red Cross smoke alarm event with a Leica M240 (An American Red Cross representative discusses home safety with a resident)
Composition Should Always Come First
I recently came across a video from a photographer who was listing the most important techniques in creating masterful images. Out of the ten items listed, composition ended up in last place. At first, I was puzzled at the order because I happen to know that this photography teacher is well trained in design. In fact, we both learned from the same art instructor. But then after a few moments giving it some thought, it dawned on me - learning composition (Dynamic Symmetry, root rectangles, the armature of the rectangle, etc.) is not an easy sell. In other words, it's easier to sell the abstract "idea" of composition than it is to actually sell "teaching" composition.
However, in classical art training, mastering art skills in a particular order is essential to the learning process. For example, an artist would never learn about color theory until they have fully grasped the importance of grayscale values. Therefore, as a design instructor, composition should not be listed last, but rather first. As Arthur Dow once said, "Composition is the beginning of art education." And while I would never dispute the importance of other techniques like figure-ground relationship, aerial perspective, perspective, overlapping, etc., without the knowledge on how to create an effective design in a work of art, these other techniques, for the most part, become irrelevant.