It is one of the most essential elements to taking pictures. It can either make or break a photo. Entire books could be, and have been, written on the subject. As an introduction to composition, this article aims to give an overview of the main points on how to compose photos and improve your photography.
What is your subject?
The most important part of composition is having a clearly defined subject. Decide what the photo is about and hone in on that. It may be a single person in a crowd, or an abandoned house sitting in a rustic landscape. Whatever you decide to make the subject of your photo, decide how to emphasize it and go from there. Choose whether to include other elements in an image based on weather they say something about your subject or not. For example, you may wish to include that huge tree standing near your abandoned house to give scale to the image. On the other hand, you might decide to leave it out if you want the house to appear larger. What you leave out of an image is as important as what you include.
Rule of Thirds
Firstly, what is it? Using the rule of thirds means to divide the scene into thirds horizontally and vertically, so you have an imaginary 9 square grid, and place your subject along one of these lines. Generally this produces a composition that is more pleasing to the eye. Some photographers stick religiously to this rule and others intentionally break it every time they take a photo. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I believe that there are times when the rule works best and other times when it leaves the image looking a little bland. So my advice on this is learn the rule and practice with it, but also practice breaking it.
Being a travel photographer, I often end up in places that have been photographed before. In fact, in this age of high volume digital photography, it is nearly impossible to find a subject that hasn’t been covered comprehensively. This presents a challenge: to come up with a new take on an old subject. To make your images stand out you need to do something different. Often this means looking for different angles. Something new and fresh. This might mean getting down on the ground for a low viewpoint, or tilting your camera on an angle to create a new perspective. Whatever your tactics, always strive to do something that hasn’t been done. One of my favorite methods is to look at pictures others have taken of your subject before you shoot and think what the opposite viewpoint would be.
Composition can be a simple task. But is essential to understand what makes a good composition rise above a bad one. Like with everything else, the more you practice the easier it will come to you. Eventually it will become so ingrained that you will do it without realizing you are doing it. It is simply a matter of experimenting and finding what works for you.
Mark Eden is a freelance travel photographer and writer, and the founder and director of Expanse Photography, a photographic services company offering fine art, limited edition prints as well as stock and assignment photography and publishing services. Mark can be contacted through the Expanse Photography website http://www.expansephotography.com.