Composition

Composition (by Phil Lindley)

Arranging elements can be done by actually moving the objects or subjects (a good example for this case is portrait or still life) or by selecting the correct lens to incorporate the elements, for example when using a wide angle lens for landscapes.

 

Rule of Thirds

If we divide the frame equally with 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines, the rule of thirds says that you should position the most important elements in your scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect.

Doing so will add balance and interest to your photograph. Some cameras even offer an option to superimpose a rule of thirds grid over the LCD screen, making it even easier to use.

 

Balancing Elements

This is also true of odd numbers of elements in the image, e.g. 1, 3 or 5 elements seem to be more visually pleasing.

 

Leading Lines

When we look at a photo our eye is naturally drawn along lines. By thinking about how you place these leading lines in your composition, you can affect the way we view the image, pulling us into the picture, towards the subject, or on a journey “through” the scene.

Remember they don’t have to be straight lines, they can be curved, zig zag, diagonal etc.. Each can be used to enhance the images composition.

 

Symmetry and Patterns

We are surrounded by symmetry and patterns, both natural and man-made. They can make for very eye-catching compositions, particularly in situations where they are not expected. Another great way to use them is to break the symmetry or pattern in some way, introducing tension and a focal point to the scene.

 

Viewpoint

Before photographing your subject, take time to think about where you will shoot it from. Our viewpoint has a massive impact on the composition of our photograph and, as a result, it can greatly affect the message that the image conveys.

Rather than just shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a long way away or from very close up.

 

Background

How many times have you taken what you thought would be a great shot, only to find that the final image lacks impact because the subject blends into a busy background?

Our eyes are excellent at distinguishing between different elements in a scene, whereas a camera has a tendency to flatten the foreground and background, and this can often ruin an otherwise great photograph. Thankfully this problem is usually easy to overcome at the time of shooting – look around for a plain and unobtrusive background and compose your shot so that it doesn’t distract or detract from the subject.

 

Depth

Photography is a two-dimensional medium, we have to choose our composition carefully to convey the sense of depth that was present in the actual scene. You can create depth in a photograph by including objects in the foreground, middle ground and background.

Another useful composition technique is overlapping, where you deliberately partially obscure one object with another. The human eye naturally recognises these layers and mentally separates them out, creating an image with more depth.

 

Framing

The world is full of objects which make perfect natural frames. These can be natural, such as trees, branches etc. or can be man made like archways, bridges or fences. They can even be human such as hands around a face.

By placing these around the edge of the composition you help to isolate the main subject from its environment. The result is a more focused image which draws your eye naturally to the main point of interest.

 

Cropping

Often a photo will lack impact because the main subject is so small it becomes lost among the clutter of its surroundings. By cropping tight around the subject you eliminate the background “noise”, ensuring the subject gets the viewer’s undivided attention. This could be done in camera or via post processing.

 

Experimentation

Use In-Camera experimentation to be creative with composition, different angles crops etc..  Digital is “free”; take as many images as you want.

Use Post-Production experimentation in creative ways, using the power of your software. Check out different processing skills on the Internet and YouTube, etc..

Keep an eye on the edges of your frame to make sure the person/animal you’re photographing hasn’t had any of their body parts chopped off by it. Unintentional limb chopping can pull attention away from what the viewer should really be looking at.

Of course, there are times when this rule can be ignored but, for the most part, pay attention to it.

 

Simplify

Having too much going on in your frame can mean the person who’s looking at it just keeps searching for a point of focus and soon gets bored when they can’t find one. This doesn’t mean you can’t have secondary points of focus, it just means you should make every effort to make sure they don’t steal all the limelight. So shallow depth of fields or single subjects in the frame or even macro shots can all come under this guideline.

 

Space to Move

With moving objects and panning shots, a composition looks stronger visually when the object has space to move in to, whether this is human, bikes, cars, athletes or nature shots of birds, horses etc.

Sometimes tilting the image slightly often makes the composition stronger.

 

Composing with Light

For a photographer the essential element is not the camera, nor the film, nor the digital processing software,. Although all these are very important, it is light that is preeminent because without light there would be no photograph. Light is photography and photography is light!

 

Composing with Colour

Colour is all around us and yet when we photograph in colour we rarely consider colour as an element of composition.

 

Composing with Monochrome

I’m using the word monochrome in this example as being black and white.

Black and white is colour with only one variable: lightness. As black and white has no hue and no saturation one might expect it to be easier to shoot in Black & White. However, this is not always the case as it takes practice to see in this way; tricking our vision so as not see colour but to see in shades of grey.