Composition is probably the most important thing to get right in photography in my opinion. Nowadays slight errors in exposure can be corrected on the computer but composition is very hard to put right unless you are a photoshop expert. Sure, you can crop your image and chop off the edges to get a better composition but you are then removing part of the image and therefore restricting what you can use it for and the size you can print it. The idea is to compose your image correctly in the camera so you maximise the image potential.
Some people are born with an eye for composition, they can see shapes and how to position them in the best way. For most people though, this is skill to learn and takes a bit of practice. With digital though you have the advantage of being able to take lots of different compositions of the same image and pick the best until you begin to learn what works and what doesn’t. A valuable lesson, and something I would advise doing for any shot. Take several photos of the same subject with different viewpoints and see which ones you prefer.
So how do you learn composition? Well there are guidelines that artists and photographers can use which are generally accepted as ways to get a pleasing composition. These are just guidelines though, you don’t have to follow the if you find a style which suits you better.
I’ll be going into more detail, with examples, for each guideline in later posts, but here is a brief run down of the main ones.
Rule Of Thirds
How many of you have seen or taken pictures where you have positioned the main subject right in the centre of the image? A fair few I would imagine. Now there is nothing particularly wrong with that, and sometimes it works well but generally, putting the subject right in the middle doesn’t look quite right and doesn’t quite sit well in the mind for most people.
The rule of thirds refers to dividing what you see through your view finder or on your screen into a three by three grid, dividing the image into thirds. The idea is to have the main focul point, the horizon or intersecting lines on the thirds eg positioned on the dividing lines.
Leading The Eye
Leading the eye into the picture or towards the main subject is another composition technique. Using something in the image to take the viewers eye through the picture to a point can make an image much more interesting. For instance, if you had a meandering river with a boat on it in the distance, using the curves of the river to take the eye into the picture to the boat can work really well.
Looking Into The Image
If you take a picture of someone, then having more space into the area the person is looking works better than having them looking out of the image. It’s nice to see what the person might be looking at. The same with animals too, if they are looking at something then give them room in the image to look into.
Distracting Objects or Highlights
Any object that looks out of place in the image or is particularly bright, or for that matter particularly dark, will distract the eye and make the person viewing the image focus on that rather than the main focul point of the image. So watch out for reflections, highlights, brightly coloured objects and other things that might distract the eye.
Having 3 or 5 of a certain object can work better than 2 or 4 of the same object. Odd numbers tend to sit better with the brain. If we see even numbers then we start to look for even spacing and things can look wrong. For instance, a picture of 3 ducks paddling across a pond will be, to most people, more pleasing than if there were 4 ducks paddling across the pond.
You may disagree with these in the way I have described them, so I will be going through each one in a bit more detail with examples to try and show you what I mean. As I said, they are guidelines only, you may not like them, and if you don’t, no problem.