Composition: framing your pictures
Unfortunately, when it comes to framing your pictures, there is no auto-composition button to come to your rescue, so this is one skill that you really will have to master. This section is about developing an “eye” for a picture.
Composition is part of basic photography technique. Photography is about seeing something pictorial and recording it in an interesting and graphic way. If the subject doesn’t have the content to begin with, you can’t mysteriously add it. If the colors and shapes of the subject don’t complement each other, guidelines will not help you. They are there to help you make the most of what you see and photograph. Unless you are constantly looking and thinking, you will not get great pictures.
Composition mean to compose your pictures properly, in very simple terms, is to produce a pleasing picture. This is easily achieved in most cases. Sometimes it may be as simple as turning the camera vertically to take the picture as opposed to the more commonly used landscape, or horizontal, format.
The important thing is to really think about your picture and not get too bogged down in technical details. This may sound hypocritical, as the bulk of this book deals with the technical aspects of digital photography, but it’s essential to understand that the technical side is there to enable you to express your creativity. Unless you fully grasp the basics of composition, no matter how technically advanced you become, your pictures will always be lacking.
How to practice composition technique? To start with, be bold and fill the viewfinder with your subject. If the subject is predominantly upright, shoot the picture vertically. If your subject lends itself to a horizontal picture, shoot it in a landscape format. In the early days of your photography, when you review your pictures at the end of the day you will be surprised to find that the subjects are much smaller in the frame than you expected. You must make sure that when you look through the viewfinder you are looking at everything that is in the viewfinder. Take into account what’s around your subject and ask yourself if it contributes to the picture you are trying to make. One of the advantages of the compact digital camera, which is lacking on nearly all D-SLRs, is the ability to use the LCD screen on the rear of your camera as a viewfinder.
I find that to practice composition technique, people tend to frame their pictures far better when using the LCD, because they tend to look at the whole picture. The LCD is so small that your eye cannot wander around the frame. When you’re looking through a normal eye-level viewfinder, it’s easier for your eyes to wander and, therefore, not consider the frame as a whole.
As you start to shoot more pictures and you become more accustomed to filling the frame, start making use of your zoom lens (which most digital cameras now come with) and zoom in on your subject. Don’t be afraid to shoot, for example, an extreme close-up of your friend, or your baby, or a flower. When you shoot close-up portraits, try experimenting with your framing. Your subject doesn’t always have to be in the center of the frame and looking directly at the camera.
Perhaps when photographing, say, your daughter, it may be more pleasing to compose the picture with her on the left or right looking into the center of the picture. Now that you are beginning to frame your portraits, you have started to compose your pictures well. Since the time of Leonardo da Vinci, budding artists have had the rule of thirds drummed into them at art school. I personally find rules extremely boring, but I grudgingly admit that this one is actually very useful to photographers.
Look through your viewfinder and mentally divide the screen into three horizontal and three vertical sections, like a tic-tac-toe grid. The points where the lines intersect are the places that your eye naturally seeks out when looking at a photograph. It’s logical, therefore, that you should try to position your subject near one of these four focal points.
When photographing a landscape, it’s also good composition practice to place the horizon or skyline on one of these imaginary lines. At this point we must also mention that it’s important to keep your horizon straight. Failing to do so is the most common mistake when starting out. It’s a real disappointment to see a photograph in which the skyline runs downhill.
Changing the angle from which you take a picture can hugely transform it. For small subjects, such as pets and babies, try to get down on their level. Lie down and look up at your one-year-old child’s first steps for a far more interesting picture. A tight portrait of your bulldog a sleep on the rug is far better photographed if you are lying down on the same level. Choosing a dynamic viewpoint can help your photography and accentuate your pictures. Don’t be afraid to be radical and stand directly above the sleeping dog. This may or may not give a more interesting viewpoint; the point is to keep experimenting and looking to find the most dynamic picture.
I know I sound like Polly the parrot, but keep reviewing your images on the LCD screen on the back of your digital camera. A good tip for cameras with an LCD screen that can be used as a viewfinder—if it’s the sort with a hinged, adjustable screen—is to hold the camera on the floor or above your head to gain a more dramatic viewpoint and view the image using your LCD to control your composition. This way you can sometimes achieve a viewpoint that wouldn’t be possible if you had to compose a picture through your normal viewfinder. The less agile you are, the more useful this can be.
If your frame contains visible or long, continuous lines, such as roads, rivers, fences, buildings, etc., take advantage of these lines when composing your image to lead your eye into the main subject of the picture.
This works particularly well when the lines originate from the bottom corners of your photographs. A winding road, for example, leads to the old church you are photographing, or the Great Wall of China starts in the bottom corner of your frame and then leads the eye into the center of the picture.
One last word on color in your composition. It’s pointless to try to apply any rules to this; it’s up to you as the photographer to see and appreciate color and the aesthetics of different combinations. Colors can give a warm or cold feeling to a picture, reflecting our preconceived views on color. A winter scene can be enhanced by the use of blue in the picture to give that chilly feeling, for example, or a red beach umbrella on golden sand can evoke the feeling of warmth. Although it’s not usually possible to add colors to your photographs, be aware of color as you’re looking to make that award-winning picture.
Filed under: Concept
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