Photography Basics Composition
Composition is literally organising the elements of your subject into an image frame. What you are trying to attract is the eye, then you have to hold its attention.
A really great image takes the eye on an adventure, it pulls it in and takes it for a ride of discovery revealing all of its wonderfulness slowly but intricately.
There are four key elements which you can use to achieve an image which can attract and keep the attention of any viewers eye.
An entry point
This is what fist drags you into the image. The one thing you see from across the room that shouts “stop what you are doing, come over here and look at me”. A obvious example of this would be someone’s eyes. It’s a strange phenomenon, but if you have a picture of someone who is looking straight at the camera and you hang that picture on a wall, no matter where you are in the room the subject appears to be looking at you.
Elements that attract the eye
Being drawn into an image isn’t enough, you have to discover what else is there and to do that there needs to be elements that drag your eye around the photo. You see this all the time in classic painting, in fact all of these elements of composition are taken from the art world. Photography has a relatively short history and has always stood on the shoulders of classical thorium. Go to an art gallery and head straight for the 16th and 17th century paintings. Don’t get distracted by the fancy modern art, that won’t help you!
Find a simple portrait (it’s easier this way). Now squint your eyes. You will start to see elements in the painting that aren’t at the centre but even through your blurry vision still demand notice. They might be a brighter colour or lighter shade and the chances are they might even create a triangle if you drew a line joining them up.
Now I wonder if you can create a photograph that works in the same way?
Balance between the elements
Having all the attracting elements is great but with everything in life we need to create balance. I could list off numerous equations that I’ve flirted with over the years which would help you create a perfect image but that would just confuse matters. A good photograph, heck a good anything, needs just the right about seasoning. In fact that’s quite a nice analogy, think of the elements in your image as seasoning and your viewers are John Traode and Greg Wallace. If John and Greg were devouring your image would they say it needs a pinch more pepper or a little less salt?
An exit point
Thank you viewer I’m done with you now you can go. That’s what your exit point has to say. After all of the different elements of your image have taken you on a wild ride you finish with an exit point which tells the viewer where to go next. Your entry and exit points could in fact be the same thing or if your image was working as a set of wall displayed photos then you want it to say “that was fun but now go look at this photo over here”.
Think about the weight that each of the elements in your images has. Do they complement each other?
Does the entry point (what first grabs your attention) steal of of the attention of the eye or does it lead the eye onto and around the image till it comes right back at you?
Think about what things you might want to exclude or change in your images. This can be any from textures and colours to direction of a subject’s glance or the position of the main subject in the frame.
There are also many other elements you might want to consider (but not all at once) and we’re going to be covering many of them shortly.
Rule of thirds
When considering the rules of photographic composition one of the most well known of them all is the rule of thirds. This theory of composition is not by any means new and the term dates back to John Thomas Smith’s 1797 book Remarks on Rural Scenery where he discussed the the balance of dark and light in a painting.
If you want to begin to take and compose well balanced images then an understanding of the principles behind the rule of thirds is essential.
Rules of course are made to be broken and not every great image will adhere to these basic fundamentals but if you are going to break the rules then at least know what they are.
On pretty much every digital camera (camera phones included) you have the option to have an grid overlay appear on your viewfinder or your LCD screen. This overlay divides your frame into 9 separate and even sections.There are four lines that create the grid, they there for your benefit as are the intersections.
In theory if you aline an horizon, for example, along one of the horizontal lines this will aid your composition. The same is also true if you put points of interest in the intersections or place a subject along the verticals.
When someone views an image it has been shown that people’s eyes naturally go towards one of these intersecting points rather than the centre. This means that an horizon would not look as pleasing in the middle of an image nor would an object in the foreground.
In theses example images I’ve included the grid overlays to let you better understand how I composed the photos.
Whilst it’s true that cropping can be done in post production try to compose your image in camera. This is the best way to practice good habits!
If your subject is off centre then you might want to adjust your focus point as most cameras by default set their focal point to the middle of the frame. If you don’t know how to do this then check your manual or a quick cheat is to focus on the subject then whilst holding down your shutter re-compose and shoot the image. Do be careful doing this when using a very shallow depth of field as by moving the camera you might no longer have your point of interest in focus.
Although you should as I said practice your rule of thirds compositions in camera I think it is a good idea to go back and look at some of your older images.
Many photo editing programs have the option to show a rule of thirds overlay with their cropping tools, enable this function. Find some old images and re-crop them to where to the rule of thirds.
Compare the images you took with the cropped ones. Do they look better?……They should do!