Tutorial Composition 1-2-3 E-mail

Composition is arguably the single most important aspect of photography.  The other candidate is light measurement, but as cameras are always getting better at measuring light, this is not the right place to start for a real photorookie.  While composition is very much a subjective aspect of photography, there are several tried-and-tested techniques that you should be familiar with.

Rule of Thirds

Central focus, low F-stop

A dictionary definition of composition would be something like "the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole".  The key point to take away is that any picture consiss of a series of parts which are more or less important to the whole.  Your job, as the photographer, is to decide what goes into the picture (and therefore what is left out), what is central to the picture and what is not etc. in such a manner that the picture as a whole works, i.e it is not sufficient for a part of the photo to be appealing if the rest of it isn't.  In real life, this often means just adding a couple of seconds to think about the layout of your subject before shooting, it often helps to identify what it is in what you're seeing while there that would survive without the context you necessarily leave out.

There are an endless array of alternative compositions that are possible, and it is you as a photographer that elevates the subject to a new hight through thoughtfull composition.  While there are no absolutes, some of the guidelines you might want to apply are as follows:

Where to Focus

When you take a picture your camera has a focus.  The focus is a particular distance from the camera that is sharpest, everything else is less sharp, but doesn't necessarily appear unfocused.  The degree to which something is out of focus depends on your depth of field, which again is decided by your camera's f-stop.   Higher number e.g. F16 means deeper depth of field, while lower number e.g. F5,6 means less de

pth o f field.  For landscapes you'll typically want a high number, which will ensure that a larger portion of the picture is in focus and for portraits a mid-low number which will make the background more fuzzy, highlighting the main subject.


Rule of thirds

For some reason or other, w e respond we ll to pictur

es composed along a matrix of 2X2.  If your camera has a "Grid" feature you can switch this on, and you'll see an overlay of a 2X2 grid through your viewfinder. If you don't have it you simply have to guess roughly where the lines would go (along 1/3 and 2/3 in the horizontal and vertical positions, dividing the picture into 3 equally large sections in each direction). This is a gr eat tool for helping you compose compelling pictures.  The two most common ways of

using this grid is to either align elements to the grid, which is usefull when you want to take a picture of a horizon or putting the focus at o ne of the crosspoints between the lines.  This will ens ure that you get a basic good composition every time.

Low Angle empasizes hight.

Diagonals, Shapes and patterns

While the rule of thirds almost always ensures a good composition, often this is referred to as a bit "Boring" as it is so common.  You can use diagonals in the picture in the same way, i.e aligning the picture so that elements of the picture align to one of the diagonals.  Alternatively you can use patterns and shapes in the actu

al subject you're capturing to emcompass other objects.  For instan

ce, a winding river will naturally attract the eye as it is a

clear line through the picture, typically giving the impres

sion of distance as well. 

Perspective/Angle of view

A final trick o f composition is to use a particular perspective such as frog or eagle view.  As implied the angle on the subject is from the bottom up in a frog perspective and top-down in an eaqle perspecti

ve.  If you place your camera at a low angle, i.e. looking up on a subject, the subject will look imposing/dominating/large while if you place the camera at a high angle towards the subject, you'll give the impression that the subject is smaller/petit etc.  Creating unusual pictures is often about changing the perspective.

When deciding on a composition for your picture don't feel constricted to one of these guidelines, rather mix and match them, which opens up a plethora of alternative pictures from the same subject.  Once you feel that you are confidently producing pictures that are well composed using combinations of these guidelines you'll want to try "breaking the rules" to create even more extravagant compositions.





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