In Focus Photo Composition – In Control of the Image
The good photographer and designer control what people see when they look at a photo and make them linger over the photo to get the whole story. The good photographer picks a subject and positions himself to use the elements of composition; the designer must also understand these things to use pictures effectively.
Photographers must be creative, self-motivated and confident. Somebody who isn’t afraid to get right in the middle of the action to get that shot. Remember it is the photographer that takes the picture not the camera. The photographer sets the camera and composes the shot; the camera just records the light.
The nature of the photographic medium:
Feeling of reality
Time – photos record a specific nature of time
Continuous tonality – photographs can reproduce a range of tones from darkest to lightest
Composition is the thoughtful arrangement of the visual elements within a work.
With design, such as for the pages of the yearbook, there is complete control over composition. With photographs, the photographer has less control. Limitations need to be overcome with a process of visual selection by using camera position (point of view). General design principles help (but don’t have to dictate) good composition.
Vertical shots are more powerful than horizontal shots.
Photos must have something to say. They must pique the viewer’s curiosity enough to want to read the caption to find out more about it.
Photos should tell a story, not be posed. Avoid taking pictures of people staring into the camera.
Be ready for anything. Spontaneous moments make priceless pictures.
Keep it simple. Tell just one story. Pick out the subject you want to photograph and make sure that it is all you show. Don’t leave any doubt about what the viewer is supposed to see.
The main subject in the photo should be noticed first; secondary objects should strengthen the dominant image.
Pick one Story Too much is happening here…which story are you telling? Crop pictures that are visually confusing. Keep the subject of your photo clear.
The placement in a frame emphasizes and organizes the elements in a photograph. Use the following to help place the subject:
Rule of Thirds
Direction of implied lines
Rule of Thirds
The rule states that an image can be divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. The four points formed by the intersections of these lines can be used to align features in the photograph.
Proponents of this technique claim that aligning a photograph with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the photo than simply centering the feature would.
Rule of Thirds
Imagine a tic-tac-toe board in your viewfinder. Locate the main subject off centre, usually at one of the places where the lines meet. Allow for a feeling of implied motion by leaving more space in front of the picture’s action than behind it.
Rule of Thirds Arrange subjects at intersecting points.
Placing the horizon line at one of the two horizontal dividing lines may give more visual interest than centering it.
Placement at the top divider emphasizes the land and the bottom divider emphasizes the sky.
Be careful with this technique. Make sure that the image needs a tilt and then do it purposefully (a small tilt looks like you didn’t mean to do it and thus, your picture does not look professional.)
Tilted Horizon Garry Winogrand, Los Angles, 1969
Direction of Implied Lines Another guideline for placement is determined by the direction of implied lines due to motion or direction of gaze of the subject. The convention is that motion should lead into rather than out of the frame.
Stay close and fill the frame. Generally the closer you get the better the photo. Getting closer eliminates distracting and unnecessary backgrounds and shows the subject more clearly.
Look carefully out to the edges of the viewfinder and see that you are not including anything which is unnecessary or cutting off something which is needed. Move in close.
Legs are usually unimportant in people pictures. Move closer. Get rid of empty spaces. However, don’t cut off appendages. Watch out for feet or hands at the edge of a frame, or deliberately focus in on the face. Hands and faces are the most expressive and interesting parts of the body.
Framing is the process of selecting what is to appear in a photograph.
Avoid distracting objects or shapes in the background
Avoid foreground objects overlapping important subject matter
Closer…. Even closer. Move in close to your subject.
Backgrounds affect your photo. Simple backgrounds focus attention on the subject and makes it a stronger statement. Nothing in the background should lead away from the main subject. Avoid having background objects growing out of the subject’s head or body. Move around to pick the best shooting angle to hide distractions, or make sure background is out of focus.
Avoid background objects that appear to merge with the main subject
Moving the camera or the subject to a different view point is one solution.
Filling the frame eliminates background or subject matter that add little interest. Fill the frame by moving closer to the subject. You can go very close so that only a small section – a detail – of the subject is shown.
Extreme close ups show only a small detail of the subject. Eikoh Hosoe, Embrace #46, 1970
Sometimes the subject matter demands a particular shape. Vertical framing is usually more interesting.
With cropping it is easy to break out of the standard rectangular frame.
Frames within frames offer another way to break out of rectangular frames.
Format Shape A square is stable and self-contained. Longer rectangles seem to more readily extend beyond themselves visually. horizontal framing vertical framing – vertical shots are more powerful than horizontal shots
Some subjects determine whether you should shoot vertically or horizontally.
Werner Ischof, Girls from a Village near Patna, India, 1951
Unique framing by secondary elements in the shot add impact. Take the photo from a spot which lets you use other objects or people to make a frame around your subject. This will make people look at your subject longer, but make sure that the frame isn’t so big that it takes away from the main subject.
Frames within a frame Lee Friedlander
Foreground adds depth. Scenic shots can be framed with foreground elements. Foreground elements add a sense of distance, depth and dimension.
Foreground The parking meters give a linear perspective and add depth to the photo. A. Aubrey Bodine, Parking Meters Baltimore
People are drawn to look more closely at photos which show subjects with unusual similarities or differences.
Get people active. Photograph people while they are busy. Un-posed, action and reaction shots are preferable to posed shots. The pictures will have a feeling of lively spontaneity. Take action photos when the action is coming towards you. Look for fresh, creative, innovative approaches to the picture.
Content Mark Walker
Leading lines, framing, and patterns add a dramatic quality to photos.
Anything which makes a photo feel more real will cause people to look at it longer, to be absorbed by the contradiction between the flat picture and its seeming reality. Look for photos which accentuate the weave in the fabric of someone’s clothing or sweat, tears or rain on a person’s face.
Texture The raindrops form a visual texture on the woman’s face. Brian Brake, Indian woman in monsoon rain.
Repetition created through textures and patterns adds interest. Repeating shapes attract a viewer’s eye, but something which then breaks that pattern really focuses attention on the break.
Lines are useful to focus viewer’s attention on the subject. Robert Imholf, Mercedes Benz
Lines Line plays an important role in this photograph. The converging lines of the brick wall draw the eye to the police officer. The vertical lines of the building accentuate his straight posture, and the horizontal line of the paving adds visual interest. Bill Brandt, Policeman in Bermondsey
Implied Lines Both real and implied lines can be seen in this image. Jim Brandenburg, Arctic wolf on Ellesmere Island, Canada
When you take a photograph in a rectangular frame, basing the composition on a triangle that goes from any one corner to the two opposite sides, is always a good way to create a strong image.
By placing objects in your composition along strong diagonal lines that create a triangle, you'll add strength to your image.
Implied Shape Danny Lyon
Point of view is determined by the position of the camera at the time of taking the photo. The natural point of view is at eye level (either from sitting or standing). Try changing this by getting close to the floor or above. Shoot from a ladder or on the ground, over someone’s shoulder, through sunglasses or between the legs of a table.
Point of View By changing the point of view you can change how the subject is viewed.
Point of View
The angle can create a dramatic effect. Showing the world from a viewpoint not usually seen will cause people to stop and linger over this new insight.
Point of View
Point of View
Point of View Sylvia Plachy, Sumo Wrestlers, New York, 1985
Look for good lighting. Good lighting can make pictures more interesting, colorful, dimensional and flattering to the subject. Strong sunlight is a wonderful source of good lighting, gymnasium fluorescent lighting will be a challenge.
Technical Quality Mark Walker
Use your flash to improve poor lighting, but be aware that it can cast shadows on the background if the subject is close to a bank of lockers, for instance. Indoors it freezes motion, but only within the flash range of about 12 feet (4m). Outdoors a flash can soften shadows and brighten colors.
Hold the camera steady. The most basic rule is the most often overlooked. Holding the camera steady is vital for sharp, clear pictures. Press the shutter button with gentle pressure, don’t jab it.
Variety on a Page/Spread
Every page or spread should have a dominant photo which serves as the centre of visual impact.
Use a variety of rectangular shapes and sizes to prevent visual monotony.
Variety on a Page/Spread
Variety on a Page/Spread
Crop photos effectively to get rid of distracting backgrounds.
The photo should lead the reader’s eye into the story or spread; place photos so that the subject’s eyes are looking into the story the picture goes with.
Edward Curtis Coastal Salish, Lummi Type Story goes here.
Nadar (Gaspard Felix Tournachon Sarah Bernhardt, 1865 Story goes here.
Arnold Newman Piet Mondrian Yes, you guessed it……
Lewis W. Hine Ten-year-old spinner Where would the story go for this image?
Photos used for publication should:
have excellent contrast and/or color tones
be in sharp focus (avoid fuzzy or blurred shots)
be clean and crisp, not muddy, too light or flat
be free of scratches, watermarks, fingerprints and dust