The one element that immediately separates an amateur or novice’s photos from that of pro or consummate enthusiast’s is composition, the placement of objects in the frame… this ultimately defines your skill as a photographer and the beauty of your images. Composition is a craft as a well as a skill, so it’s something that you can develop through practice, practice and practice.
To elevate the aesthetic standard of your photos you must find a distinctive point of interest and frame it, so you draw the viewers eye to that subject. It could be something very small in the frame or very large, and depending on how and where your place it in the frame, what’s its color, and/or how it contrasts to the rest of the elements of the scene indicates what you, the photographer, thought was beguiling.
Complicated imagery has the same problem that a complicated sentence has (I’m not one to talk, am I?), the audience has to spend too much time deciphering what you are trying to convey. Even then they might not fully comprehend the idea. Remember, in this context simple doesn’t mean rudimentary, it means easy to understand. Seek the uncluttered frame that tells you everything with immediacy… then let the viewer’s imagination go to work; you’ll be hailed a genius! Or not.
Photo by lee
Controlling contrast is great way to add dimension to your pictures. One form of Contrast is the light v. shadow ratio and this helps delineate the “volume” of an object. But you can also find contrast in geometry, size and color, shape and sharpness to heighten the “complexity” of your photos. Contrasting shapes, colors and lines creates feelings of tension that instinctively generates a sense of wanting more. So your photographs feel like they’ve stolen a moment in time… even if they’re arranged!!!
Balance is the key to achieving penetrating pictures; if you strive for balance in contrast, placement in the frame, color, lighting, then the end result is an image that has all the elements working for it. Balance doesn’t mean having a boring picture, but a picture with the right amount of tension; where the tension acts to draws the viewer’s attention to subject in the manner in which the photographer intended.
Photo by Junichiro Aoyama
When you are designing your image, consider using objects within the viewfinder to “frame” your subject (as in the photo to the right). Perhaps you include a window or incorporate the side of a building into the shot… whatever is around, it’s all usable just make sure it has sharp, identifiable lines to create a “frame within your frame”. This will draw the viewer’s eye directly to the subject that you want.
Blurring the background (or foreground) is a critical skill for a photographer to master, as it allows the photographer to focus the viewer’s eye on exactly what he (or she) wants the viewer to see; it’s generically called Selective Focus. You can easily achieve this by shooting with a longer lens at the widest possible f/stop possible, as this reduces the depth-of-field to an extremely shallow margin.
Photo by lee
It’s like they always say, “the devil is in the details.” Details imbue anything, particularly a photograph, with the ignored or taken for granted elements that make something real. Maybe it’s the pores of someone’s skin, or the soft texture of rain-drenched flowers or the brief space between the mouths of silhouetted lovers before they kiss – those are the things that make you stop and think and say, “that’s the beauty of life.”
The Rule of Thirds. Picture if you will… dividing the viewfinder frame by three; horizontally and vertically. Now picture the four intersecting points… psychological studies have shown that the human eye is subconsciously drawn to those four vertices. When composing your photographs, if you place your subject at one of those intersecting points you’ll intrinsically have a more dynamic photograph. Take two pictures, one with the subject at one of those points, the other with the subject dead center… which one “feels” more potent?
What’s important when creating a solid image is what and how you fill the frame. By this we mean, you must use the frame to crop out superfluous and distracting information, elements, light sources, etc. Knowing what to eliminate is just as important as knowing what to include, if not more so…
Photo by lee
Changing your perspective is great way to change your composition; either really low or really high. This is because these are vantage points that we rarely experience in our everyday life (especially something like an overhead view). You might need to lie down in the dirt or climb up a tree, but this will enhance your visual repertoire and the dedicated photographer doesn’t let anything stand in the way of getting the best shot!
A photo’s composition is perhaps the single, strongest “concept” that determines the power and the beauty of the photo. So to strive to master the above mentioned strategies for composition will push the impact of your photos, enhance your ability to capture special moments, unique details, and decisive moments… all of which will give you unforgettable images…
Try out some of these tips and show us what you come up with. Join our Flickr group here!
Featured top photo by lee
Chris Derrick is a writer, photographer, screenwriter and director living and working in Los Angeles. He studied film production and screenwriting at the University of Southern California, and continued to expand his photographic knowledge through classes at the Art Center College of Design.