Digital Photography – Composition Tips
After lighting, composition is probably the most important aspect of photography. If you have studied other art forms you will have found this is the case there too.
“I believe the elements of nature — light, shadow, colour, value, and composition — are the essential ingredients of my art. I try to utilize the realism of the scene but include the value of colour and shadow to stand out with some nice contrasts so the point of interest is easily visible to the viewer.” –Terry Brennan
“I usually have an immediate recognition of the potential image, and I have found that too much concern about matters such as conventional composition may take the edge off the first inclusive reaction.” – Ansel Adams
“Developing a composition is a creative process involving intuition and thinking more than following rules.” – Alessandra Bitelli
“A good composition keeps things from ‘floating’ or ‘flying’ off the canvas, but a poor composition will ruin an otherwise great work of art.” – Steve Childs
Composition means where do you place the main subject or point of interest so that it will work at its best within the rest of the image.
Rather than simply walking up to a subject, aiming your camera and shooting whilst standing in the usual stance, the next time you are out with your camera, think to yourself these things:
- Is this the best time of day to shoot this? Would the light be better later?
- Does this angle or viewpoint show off the subject to its best potential?
- What if I got higher or lower?
- Should it be to the left, right, top, middle or dead centre of the frame?
- What am I trying to “say” with this photo?
- What is in the background and does or can it enhance the image?
- What can I add to the background to enhance the image?
- Should I wait for someone to walk past or wait until it is devoid of people?
To be honest, by the time you have thought all that through, the moment will probably be gone! You need to practice these things so that they become second nature to you and you can then do all this automatically whenever you approach a subject.
For this next image of a bridge over a golf course with an urbanisation I was shooting in the background, rather than stand at the side of the road and take a “snapshot”, I waited until the traffic had gone and ventured to the center.
This way, the converging lines draw the eye to the bridge and properties behind.
Plus, I always take two or three shots of the same scene, especially if for a commercial client as I have more chance of nailing the shot that they want. In this instance, I took a few steps back to incorporate the “stop” sign in the road and also shot at a portrait angle so I could crop out the road signs…
Two completely different images.
In the next example, we have two elements of composition we are tackling. Firstly, the lighthouse in fig. A was at the wrong angle for the light I wanted. The sky is a little washed out and most of the bright red colours were in shade.
I simply walked around to the other side where the light was hitting the lighthouse from a different angle and the colours are more bright and vivid in the reds and the sky behind is a richer blue (fig. B). Of course, if I needed to have the same colour saturation as fig. B but also needed to capture the buildings as they are in Fig. A, I would have to come back earlier in the day when the light is hitting that side full on.
Lastly, I always make a point of zooming in on specific details of whatever I am shooting. I like to think ahead and even if I don’t need that particular shot now, I may need it later and when I do, I already have it in my portfolio.
We discuss composition in more detail in the DSLR training, but for now, remember to look around for other opportunities when out and about and remember to look at the light!