Composition in Six Steps


A good photograph is one in which the result matches your vision for it. In other words, can you produce an image that looks like you want it to look?


Coming Through

Taking great pictures isn’t just about choosing good subjects and getting photographic techniques right. Composition and framing can make or break a photograph. Poor composition can make a great subject look dull, but a well-framed image can turn the most ordinary scene into a fantastic picture.

Different composition techniques work better in different situations, and there are no set rules for taking great pictures. As with any creative art, photography offers freedom to experiment. The following techniques will give you good foundations and options for different effects. You don’t have to apply every technique, in every photo, but you should consider them as often as possible.

Does the above photo satisfy any of the following six steps. Which ones? What would you have done, differently? Can a photo miss all six of the listed techniques, and still be a satisfying image?

1. Decide on the subject.
This may sound obvious, but if you try to include too much in a picture it won’t have any real impact. Decide on the main subject of the picture, and frame and compose the image accordingly. Depending on what you want to express, this often mean having the subject at the center of the frame. However, you may decide to position it to one side or at a different point for creative effect.

2. Simplify the scene.
The human brain can quickly pick out points of interest when you look at a scene, but a camera isn’t as selective. Pointing your camera without considering what may be clutter and distraction in a scene can lead to a messy and disappointing photograph. As well as knowing what you want in a picture, you need to consider what to cut out. Simple images are far more effective than pictures which try to show too much. I try to examine the edges of the frame, before I release the shutter, making sure that I’ve included everything I want, but nothing I don’t.

3. Use diagonals for impact.
Horizontal lines create a static feel to a picture, while vertical ones usually suggest stability and calm. If you want to create a sense of movement and drama, look for ways to introduce diagonal lines into a shot. This can be achieved by turning the camera at an angle, or switching to a wide-angle lens which will exaggerate diagonal lines. Moving to a lower viewpoint is another way to introduce diagonal lines, and can result in very powerful images.

4. Fill the frame.
Leaving space around a subject works in some situations, but filling the frame generally results in more powerful pictures. Zooming in to the main subject of a picture makes it very clear to the viewer what the subject is. Cutting out surrounding detail makes for very bold images.

5. Avoid cluttered backgrounds.
A skilled photographer thinks and looks in three dimensions. If you consider composition in terms of the elements of the picture and their position in the frame, you are missing out on an important element. Always pay attention to what’s behind your main subjects, and consider any distractions in the scene. Shifting your angle may remove these, or you can use selective focussing to reduce their impact. Cluttered backgrounds are one of the most common ways great pictures are ruined.

6. Use symmetry and patterns.
The human brain tries to find pattern and order, and pictures which have this sense of balance are very pleasing to the eye. Symmetry and patterns are all around us, and they make very effective photographs. For a different effect, experiment with breaking patterns and symmetry to introduce tension and drama to shots.

This is about your vision, not mine. However, on this blog are images, or links to 1,000s of images. Feel free to explore.

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