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Photography Composition Tips

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  1. 1. The Rule of ThirdsThe basic principle behind the rule of The theory is that if youthirds is to imagine breaking an image place points of interest in thedown into thirds (both horizontally and intersections or along the linesvertically) so that you have 9 parts. As that your photo becomes morefollows. balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally. Studies have shown that when viewing images that people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the centre of the shot – using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather In learning how to use the rule of than working against it. thirds (and then to break it) the most important questions to be asking of yourself are: What are the points of interest in this shot? Where am I intentionally placing them? Once again – remember that breakingAs you’re taking an image you would the rule can result in some strikinghave done this in your mind through your shots – so once you’ve learnt itviewfinder or in the LCD display that you experiment with purposely breaking it touse to frame your shot. see what you discover.With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ Lastly – keep the rule of thirds in mindnow identifies four important parts of the as you edit your photos later on. Postimage that you should consider placing production editing tools today havepoints of interest in as you frame your Using the Rule of Thirds comes good tools for cropping and re-framingimage. naturally to some photographers images so that they fit within the rules.Not only this – but it also gives you four but for many of us takes a little Experiment with some of your old shots‘lines’ that are also useful positions for time and practice for it to become to see what impact it might have onelements in your photo. second nature. your photos. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 1 10/11/2012 22:24:28
  2. 2. Working the Lines in YourWhen Photography considering thecomposition of an image oneof the elements that I suggestdigital camera owners look for Learning how to use lines in photography doesn’t just happen. It takes timeare ‘Lines’. and practice to become good at it.The lines that can be found A good way to practice is to go backin images are very powerful through older images that you’ve takenelements that with a little practice and look for lines that worked well andcan add dynamic impact to a those that didn’t.photograph in terms of mood aswell as how they lead an image’s Then next time you go out with yourviewer into a photo. camera, before you frame your shot consciously ask yourself what lines are in front of you and how you might use them to add something to your next shot by working with them rather than against them. Also ask yourself whether the lines form any interesting patterns that you might be able to accentuate to add a further layer of interest to the shot. (How to use horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines) Horizons are the most common horizontal line to be found in photographs and they often act as a dividing point in a photograph – in effect an anchor that the rest ofThere are three types of the image is formed around.lines, ‘horizontal’, ‘vertical’ Horizons should generally not be placed in the middle of your frame. This leavesand ‘diagonal’. Each one has an image feeling unsettled compositionally. A much more effective technique is toa different impact upon a place them in the upper or lower third of your frame.photograph and should be looked Layers of horizontal lines can create rhythm or patterns in an image that canfor as you frame your shots. become the focus of an image in and of itself. Vertical lines have the ability to convey a variety of different moods in a photograph ranging from power and strength (think of skyscrapers) to growth (think of trees). As horizontal lines can be accentuated by shooting in horizontal format vertical lines can be used very effectively by swapping the way you hold your camera into a vertical framing. This lengthens the vertical subject further which can emphasize it’s height. Diagonal lines generally work well to draw the eye of an image’s viewer through the photograph. They create points of interest as they intersect with other lines and often give images depth by suggesting perspective. Different studies have been done into how people view images and many of them say that a natural way into an image is by traveling left to right and so a diagonal line starting at the bottom left and moving to the top right of an image can be quite useful and natural. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 2 10/11/2012 22:24:28
  3. 3. Finding Fresh Angles to Shoot From One of the most effective ways to make your digital images more interesting to the eye is to change the angle that you’re shooting from. Changing the angle that you shoot from impact the feeling of size of your subject but it can have a real effect upon the light and shade and patterns on it. The variety of perspectives that you can shoot images from is only limited by your imagination. In addition to standing in front of your subject you might like to try: Lying or crouching in front of it, Climbing above it, Putting the camera on the ground and chancing it (some cameras with swing out LCD displays make this particularly easy as you can frame your shots rather than chancing it) Photography Composition Tipscomposition.indd 3 10/11/2012 22:24:29
  4. 4. Photographing Children Composition Getting on your hands and knees The same principle of getting or crouching down before you down low applies with older take a shot of a child takes you children although you do have a into their world and helps you to little less lying on the floor with engage with them through the them when they are at an age of images you take. walking. If your camera has a continuous shooting mode it might also be worth keeping that on with bigger kids who tend to move around more.Benefit of continuous shooting is that you can end up with a great series of shots that might go nicely together to tell a story. Taking pictures with a wide angle focal length can be particularly effective when getting in close to children. It opens up the angles and gives all kinds of interesting perspectives. I use a 17-40mm zoom lens on my DSLR which is brilliant for this. It still allows me to zoom in a little but at 17mm the impact is amazing.A zoom lens allows you to take photos from further afield and will particularly be useful if the child is distracted by you taking photos. I use a 70-200mm zoom (the third image above was taken with it) which I find very useful. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 4 10/11/2012 22:24:29
  5. 5. Getting Horizons Horizontal Experiment with holding your camera at different kinds of angles and put your horizon purposely offline. My rule of thumb is to either make it perfectly flat or very obviously off line. ‘Slightly’ off horizontal does nothing except make your photos viewers feel dizzy or lean their heads when they view your shots. The simplest way to get your horizon horizontal simply line it up with the top or bottom of your view finder. Keep in mind that the edge of your frame in your viewfinder or LCD screen will be the edges of the actual image and will be the reference point for the eventual viewers of your shots to work out whether your shot is straight or not. Many cameras also have markers in their view finder (often a rectangle or set of focussing spots). These can often be used to help line up your horizons mid frame. Some cameras have a ‘rule of thirds’ mode where they overlay a grid in your LCD/viewfinder to show you where to place your points of interest. While they’re not intended to help you get your images straight – they can be helpful markers to show you where a level line is. A lot of photo editing software these days comes with a ‘straighten’ or ‘rotate’ feature so if this tip has made you go back through your old photos and you’ve shots that are crooked you might want to learn how to use these tools. Photography Composition Tipscomposition.indd 5 10/11/2012 22:24:29
  6. 6. Getting Images Straight Some common mistakes in all kinds of photography are crooked lines. The same principle applies to many other types of photographs. Another common type is shots of building which in most cases are built to be level and have lots of straight lines. While it is often difficult to get all the lines perfectly straight when taking a shot of a building looking up (you’ll find unless you’re perfectly straight on and at a height that is even with the middle of the building that your vertical lines will taper towards the top) this shot is obviously off line if you look at how the bottom of the painting slopes towards the right in comparison to the bottom edge of the view finder. While the tapering effect would have remained the image would have been vastly improved with the camera straightened slightly.So the rule of thumb – unless you’re going for real effect(and if you are, angle the camera on a greater angle than above) take a moment before you take your shots to ask yourself a question about what lines there are in your view finder. Don’t just consider the horizon but also look at other horizontal lines and the vertical lines. Use the edges onthe edges of your view finder as a gauge and once you’ve got them lined up make sure you don’t move around too much and you’ll be much more likely to get things right. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 6 10/11/2012 22:24:29
  7. 7. Fill Your FrameUse your Optical Zoom – most point and shoot digital cameras these days come with a zoom lens and all DSLRs are able to be fitted with one. Use them.Use your Legs – most photographers have a built in zoom in the form of their legs. Don’t just rely upon your cameras zoom but actually position yourself effectively for close in shots.Crop your Shots – the other option is to zoom in manually at home after you’ve taken your shots. This is a handy optionto have but I personally prefer to use one of the first two options where I can because cropping shots later means if youwant a large image that you’ll find that it becomes more pix-elated. This is a good option if you’re just trimming shots but any major cropping will result in a loss of quality of your image.Digital Zooms – Another option that many digital camera owners use is to utilize their ‘digital zoom’. Most digitalcameras these days have boast about having digital zooms but don’t tell you that to use them will decrease the qualityof your shots in a similar way that cropping your shots can. In essence a digital zoom fills your frame by increasing thesize of pixels in your shots when can leave you with a grainy impact. I would highly recommend switching off your digitalzoom feature and relying upon option 1 and 2 above. If you still need to get in closer you can always crop your shots and achieve the same results as using your digital zoom. While empty spaces can be used effectively in photos to create stunning results, you’re much more likely to get a ‘wow’ from those looking at your photos if your shots are filled with interest. This technique is particularly important when taking pictures of people whose facial features tend to disappear when you move more than a few meters away from them. While it can be appropriate to take shots that put a person in context with the environment that they are in, if they get lost in the picture you might as well just take a shot of the scene and leave them out of it. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 7 10/11/2012 22:24:29
  8. 8. The Importance of Focal Points “What is the Focal Point in this Picture?”Some other ways to ask the same question mightinclude – What is the central point of interest?What will draw the eye of the viewers of this picture?What in this image will make it stand out fromothers? What is my subject?The reason a focal point is important is that whenyou look at an image your eye will generally need a‘resting place’ or something of interest to really holdit. Without it you’ll find people will simply glanceat your shots and then move on to the next one.Once you’ve identified a point of interest orfocal point you then should ask yourself howyou can enhance it. 6 Techniques to Enhance the Focal Point in an Image A focal point can be virtually anything ranging from a person, to a building, to a mountain, to a flower etc. Obviouslythe more interesting the focal point the better – but there are other things you can do to enhance it’s power including: Position – Place it in a prominent position – you might want to start with the rule of thirds for some ideas. Focus – Learn to use Depth of Field to blur out other aspects in front or behind your focal point. Blur – If you really want to get tricky you might want to play with slower shutter speeds if your main subject is still and things around it are moving. Size – making your focal point large is not the only way to make it prominent – but it definitely can help. Colour – using contrasting colours can also be a way of setting your point of interest apart from it’s surroundings. Shape – similarly contrasting shapes and textures can make a subject stand out – especially patterns that are repeated around a subject. Keep in mind that a combination of above elements can work well together. Lastly – don’t confuse the viewer with too many competing focal points which might overwhelm the main focal point. Secondary points of interest can be helpful to lead the eye but too many strong ones will just clutter and confuse. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 8 10/11/2012 22:24:29
  9. 9. Creating Active Space - Photographing Moving Subjects A tip for action photography is to give moving subjects space to ‘move into. Some call the space in front of a moving subject the ‘active space‘ in a photograph. Alternatively the space behind your subject is often called ‘dead space’. The reason that this compositional technique is used is that when someone views an image and spots that your subject is moving in a direction – their eye naturally moves in that direction too. It’s quite instinctive. Working with the way your viewer will instinctively view your image helps to create balance, drama and anticipation in your shot. This technique of creating active spaces in action shots can be applied in many types of photography including sports (cars, bikes, people etc), wildlife (photographing a running animal) or virtually any other subject matter that is moving. Photography Composition Tipscomposition.indd 9 10/11/2012 22:24:30
  10. 10. Getting Backgrounds Right 1. Check your Background Before Hitting the Shutter ReleaseAlways scan the background of your shots before taking a shot. Look for colours that don’t fit with the restof the image, bright patches that might distract the eye, lines that clash, people that don’t belong etc. 2. Move Your SubjectThis is once again a fairly simple technique but is probably the first thing you should consider. Quite often asking a portraitsubject to take a step to the left or right will fix things either by putting the distraction behind them or by putting it out of frame. 3. Change your Shooting AngleIf you have distracting elements in the background of a shot but can’t move your subject another strategy is to move yourselfand shoot from a new angle. This might mean rotating around your subject but could also include getting down low to makethe sky the background or even getting up high and shooting down onto your subject to make the background the ground. 4. Using Aperture to Blur BackgroundsOne of the most useful things to learn as a way to combat distractions in backgrounds (and foregrounds) isto use the power of your lens to throw the background out of focus using depth of field. What you’re trying toachieve with this technique is a nice blurred background where you can’t really make out what’s going on there.The easiest way to do this is to use a wide aperture (the smaller the number the widerthe aperture). The wider your aperture the more blurry your background should become.The quickest way to see the impact of this strategy is to switch your camera into aperture priority mode and to takea number of shots at different apertures. Start with an aperture of f/20 and work your way down – one stop at atime. Once you get down to under f/4 you’ll start seeing the background in your shots getting blurrier and blurrier. 5. Using Focal Length to Blur BackgroundsAnother way to help get your backgrounds nice and blurry is to use a lens with a long focal length. Longertelephoto do help a little to get narrower depth of field (although the amount is less than many think). In actualfact the impact is smaller than it seems and the main reason for the change is that with a longer focal lengththe subject actually takes up more space in the frame. Lots of arguments have been had over whether focallength impacts this – you can read more about it here and here – I’ll leave it to the experts to discuss the finerpoints but will say that using longer focal lengths does seem to have some impact and is worth experimenting with. 6. Place Subjects In front of Open SpacesPlacing your subject a long way in front of other objects will also help to make those objects more blurry. For example if youhave the choice between shooting your subject standing right in front of a brick wall or standing in front of an open field –the open field shot will have a much more blurred background simply because the brick wall is just centimetres from yoursubject and inside the focal range whereas an open field stretches off into the distance where everything will be out of focus. 7. Fill your frame with your subjectOne of the most effective ways of removing distractions from backgrounds is to remove the backgroundaltogether by totally filling the frame with your subject. Get up close and/or use your zoom lens to tightlyframe the shot and you’ll not only remove distractions but could end up with a high impact shot as well. 8. Make your Own BackgroundSometimes there just isn’t any suitable background and so you might want to consider making your own. Thiscould range from buying a purpose built studio background or simply buying some cloth to do the job for you.I know of one keep photographer who goes out shooting photographic portraits andcarries large coloured sheets of card with him to put up on walls to act as a background.The other thing to keep in mind is that in many instances you can move things around in the background ofyour shots (especially if you’re shooting indoors). For example I was recently photographed in my home fora newspaper and the photographer had me move a number of pieces of furniture during the shoot becausethey were distracting in the shots. It took a little effort but the impact in the shots was quite incredible. 9. Post ProcessingI’m no expert in using photo editing software but there are numerous ways of editing a shot after you’ve taken itto get rid of distracting elements. These can include blurring techniques, actual removing of elements andreplacing them and techniques such as selective colouring (i.e. making your subject stand out by making your PhotographyBackground black andWhite (or atLeast sucking some of the colour out of it). Composition Tips composition.indd 10 10/11/2012 22:24:30
  11. 11. Framing Your Shots Framing is the technique of drawing attention to the subject of your image by blocking other parts of the image with something in the scene. The benefits of framing pictures include: 1. Giving the photo context (for example framing a scene with an archway can tell you something about the place you are by the architecture of the archway or including some foliage in the foreground of a shot can convey a sense of being out in nature). 2. giving images a sense of depth and layers (in essence framing a shot generally puts something in the foreground which adds an extra dimension to the shot). 3. leading the eye towards your main focal point (some ‘frames’ can draw your photo’s viewer into the picture just by their shape). Some also believe that a frame can not only draw the eye into a picture but that it keeps it there longer – giving a barrier between your subject and the outside of the shot. 4. intriguing your viewer. Sometimes it’s what you can’t see in an image that draws you into it as much as (if not more than) what you can see in the picture. Clever framing that leaves those viewing your image wondering a little or imagining what is behind your frame can be quite effective (get it wrong and it can also be quite annoying!). Frames for photographs come in all shapes and sizes and can include shooting through overhanging branches,shooting through windows, using tunnels, arches or doorways – you can even use people (for example shooting over shoulders or between heads) etc. Your frame doesn’t need to go completely around the edges of your image – they might just be on one or two edges of your shot. My rule of thumb when considering framing is to ask the question – ‘will this add to or take away from the image?’ Sometimes framing can just add clutter to a shot and make it feel cramped – but at other times it can be the difference between an ordinary shot and a stunning one. Lastly – if you do use framing techniques you also need to consider whether you want your frame to be in focus or not. In some instances a nicely blurred frame will really add a sense of mood and depth to your shots (in this caseuse a large aperture) but in other cases to have your frame in focus can help with adding context to the scene (in this case choose a narrow aperture. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 11 10/11/2012 22:24:30
  12. 12. How to Use Converging Lines to Enhance Your Photography 4 Tips Regarding Converging Lines1. Experiment with Positioning is that you’ll end up with a more dynamic shot. Symmetrical and vertical placement ofthe lines can be powerful but diagonal lines tend to convey movement.Alternatively stepping away from the start of the lines can give another perspective – as can holding your camera onan angle to give another diagonal framing of thelines.2. Wide Angle Lenses – different lensescan totally change the impact of a shot withconverging lines. I find that a wide anglelens can be particularly useful – especiallywhen positioning yourself between the two lines.This will help to give the perception that thedistance between the lines at the startingpoint of the image is wider than it is. Thisexaggeration of the width of your lines can havea powerful impact upon your shot.3. Positioning the ‘convergence’ - onething to consider when you have converginglines in an image is that they draw the eye intoa shot – towards the point that they converge –this becomes one of the most important partsof this image – a focal point.As you’re framing your shot ask yourself– ‘where is the most effective position toframe this?”Keep in mind rules like the Rule of Thirds thatsays that the intersecting points of imaginarylines a third of the way into an image are keypoints for positioning points of interest.Also know that if the point of convergenceis outside the frame of the shot that you areleading the eye out of your shot. This couldleave a shot unbalanced and with tension –alternatively it could enhance the shotand leave your viewers wondering about theplace that they converge.4. Adding Interest at the Point of Convergence– Sometimes it is worth enhancing the pointof convergence with something of interest(for example waiting until a train appears in thedistance on the tracks –at the top of stairs) – on Photography or positioning a person other occasions thecomposition of the shot isadding an extra subject. Composition Tips strong enough without composition.indd 12 10/11/2012 22:24:30
  13. 13. 4 Rules of Composition for Landscape Photography 1. Diagonal LinesUsing diagonal lines can be a very effective way of drawing the eye of those viewing an image into it and to the main focal point.The ‘lines’ need not be actual lines – they could be the shape of a path, a line of trees, a fence, river or any other feature in an image.Converging lines (two or more lines coming from different parts of an image to a single point) can be all the more effective. 2. Geometric ShapesBy positioning key aspects of a landscape on points of a geometric shape you can help create a balanced composition. Perhapsthe most common and easiest way to do this is to use a ‘triangle’ shape between objects in an image with three objects in a frame positioned with one to each side and one more central. Using Geometric Shapes in this way isn’t something that I’ve done a lot of – but it is one technique to get balance in a shot. 3. The Rule of ThirdsThe Rule of Thirds gets trotted out more often than any other in all types of photography and is one of the first rulesof composition taught to most photography students. While sometimes it can feel a little cliché it can also be a veryeffective technique in landscapes (although keep in mind that breaking this (and other rules) can also produce dramatic and interesting shots).Position key points of interest in a landscape on the intersecting point between imaginary ‘third’ points in an image and you’ll help give your image balance and help those focal points to really capture attention. 4. Framing ImagesWhile adding points of interest to a foreground is an important technique for adding interest to landscape shots – a similar technique is to ‘frame’ the shot by adding interest to other parts of the edges of an image.Perhaps the most common way of framing a landscape shot is to include an overhanging branch in the upper section of a shot. Similarly framing a shot with a bridge might work. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 13 10/11/2012 22:24:30
  14. 14. How to Break the ‘Rules’ of PhotographyHold Your Camera on an Angle Ignore the ‘Active Space’ Rule for Moving SubjectsOne of the ‘rules’ of photography that I talked about veryearly in the development of Digital Photography School was The idea is that if you are photographing a subject thatto do everything you can to keep your images ‘straight’ (and is moving you should place more empty space in frontyour horizons horizontal). of it than behind it. This gives the viewer of the imageThere are a lot of instances when you’d want to follow this a sense of where the subject is moving and creates arule pretty carefully (like in most landscapes where a horizon sense of anticipation.should probably be straight) – but breaking it can lead to While following this rule can produce some excellentimages with drama, a feeling of energy and action and fun. results, breaking it can add a little tension and intrigueThe key with breaking this rule is to not to ‘slightly break it’ to your images.(or you’ll have people wondering if you meant it or not) but It can also convey a sense of speed and/or give theto give your wrist a real twist and to break it obviously. viewer a sense of where the subject has been rather than where they are headed. For instance – the image to the left would not haveBreak the Rule of Thirds been as dramatic without the trailing smoke behind the place. The fact that it’s approaching the top edge of theThe good old ‘rule of thirds‘ makes a lot of sense in many frame also gives a sense of speed as it almost burststypes of photography (if you don’t know what the rule of out of the frame (not to mention the clever mirroringthirds is see out tutorial on it). and contrasts in the image).The Rule of Thirds does work well as a compositional rule inmany situations – however placing your subject dead centrein an image can also produce powerful and confrontingimages – particularly portraits where the subject is lookingdirectly down the barrel or where you are presented with ascene with real symmetry like the one to the left.Next time you’re out with your camera experiment withcomposing shots both to follow and break the rule of thirds –you’ll find in doing so you can end up with two very differentinterpretations of the same scene. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 14 10/11/2012 22:24:30
  15. 15. How to Break the ‘Rules’ of Photography Experiment with Different Framings with Portraits In a similar way to our previous post on breaking the rule of ‘Active Space’ when photographing moving subjects – a similar technique can be used when photographing people. When taking portraits it is customary to position your subject with more space on the side of their head where they are facing (or give them space to look into). If your subject is looking off to one side you would generally give them a little extra room to look into. This creates balance and gives viewers of the shot a sense of where your subject is looking. However, as we’ve found with other broken rules in this series of posts, breaking this rule can produce some eye catching shots also. So next time you’re doing some portrait work experiment with different poses and framing. Take some shots with your subject looking directly at the camera, some with them looking to one side with more space to look into and some the other way around. You’ll find that you’ll end up with three quite different moods in the three different framings. Taking Unfocused Photos There are two main strategies if you’re wanting to explore purposely ‘unfocused’ images:1. You might choose to focus on a seemingly unimportant element of the scene (do this by choosing a wide aperture which will give a narrow depth of field and focus on something in front of or behind your main subject). 2. The other option is to make your full image out of focus but choosing to focus well beyond or in front of your main subject. Again, a wide aperture will help here and you will probably need to switch your camera to manual focusing mode or it will attempt to find something to focus upon. This second option will take a little experimentation. Get things too unfocused and you’ll end up with a completelyunrecognisable subject – the key is to have enough focus for it to be recognizable but out of focus enough to create a wonderful dreamy mood. Use a High ISO to Create Grainy ShotsWhile not really a ‘rule’ of photography – it is generally accepted in most photographic tutorials that you should avoidnoise in your images at all costs by choosing the lowest ISO possible for the light situation that you’re shooting in. This will leave you with shots that are as smooth, clean and sharp as possible for the lighting conditions that you’re in. While this is a recommended practice in most shooting circumstances – there are times where ramping up your ISO setting to it’s maximum can create some interesting effects. Grainy or noisy shots can give your image a gritty and raw quality that creates a completely different mood in your shots. I should say in concluding that this technique is getting more and more difficult as an in camera technique because manufacturers are getting better and better at eliminating noise and grain from high ISO settings. In the ‘old day’s of film this was a lot easier to do as high ISO films naturally had lovely gritty grain to them. Some cameras will end upwith muddy/murky shots instead. A better route is probably to take a shot at a lower ISO and do some post productionwork to get the grainy effect that you’re after – however sometimes it’s more fun to try to get these effects in camera. Photography Composition Tips composition.indd 15 10/11/2012 22:24:30