Composition is a central element in photography. Simply put, composition is the arrangement or placement of the visual objects in your photograph. It refers to the way your image is put together. Photos are more than just lighting and camera settings, the way you frame your subject is every bit as important.
When you’re just starting out in photography it can be difficult to know how to use composition to your creative advantage. By keeping these tips in mind when snapping your shots you’ll be well on your way to taking pictures like a pro!
1) Consider Eye-lines
Eye-lines are the path the viewer’s eye takes when looking at your photograph. When used properly, eye-lines can focus the gaze on a specific subject or direct the gaze in a particular direction. When shooting images of roads or streams, for example, eye-lines will be clear. If an image has multiple prominent subjects with no direct lines between them, proper spacing and placement can create an eye-line.
An eye-line can help you tell a story with your photograph. If you can lead your viewer, you can create a narrative that makes them think, and look, a little longer.
2) The Rule of Thirds
Every image can be divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. The rule of thirds places the main subject or subjects on one of the four spots where the lines of the thirds intersect. Using the rule of thirds in your composition will challenge the viewer by drawing them into the photograph. When the subject is not centered, the viewer cannot get the whole sense of the image just by glancing at it and are invited to look at all the details. The rule of thirds is an effective way to draw attention to a subject while still showing off a fascinating background.
Like all “rules,” the rule of thirds has a some exceptions. Portraits can benefit from being centered in the frame, for example. This is especially true if you are trying to draw attention to the subject’s features or expression.
3) Balance the Edges
It's natural for the eye to wander right off the edge of an image which is why it's important that you pay attention to the outer limits of your frame. By placing objects in the corners, you draw the eye back in toward the center of the image. For landscapes, this could be trees or branches along the edges. Factoring the edges into your final composition can create and more balanced photograph and keep the viewer focused on the subjects closer to the center.
If you are unable to balance your edges, try using a vignette in your editing. A vignette creates a softness around the edges that, again, will draw the eye to the center.
The height of the camera when shooting plays a significant role in composition. And the height you choose, depends on the emotion or mood you are hoping to convey. To create an image that conveys strength and power, shoot upwards from a low angle. Shooting a subject from a higher angle can make it appear smaller which implies powerlessness and weakness. When subjects are shot from directly above, it can completely transform their shape and create a rather surreal image. The direction you go is up to you and the photo you want to take.
Remember to pay close attention to your angle when you are photographing people. Lower angles tend to be less flattering while higher angles can make the subject appear thinner.
When there is a prominent horizon line running through the photograph, you need to consider where you put that line. It will naturally divide the photo and allow you to choose which part gets the attention. Horizons are particularly common in outdoor photographs and landscapes.
These horizons force you to consider the tilt of the photo as well. You need to decide whether or not you will keep it straight across a horizontal or vertical plane or if you will skew the image. Horizontally straight horizons feel natural as they loosely mimic the way we view things panoramically.
Vertical horizons are good for focusing the viewer on a particular subject. When using horizons in this way, it is important to keep them straight. Skewing an image means tilting it off axis enough to be neither vertical nor horizontal. Depending on the degree of the tilt, these lines can convey a sense of being off kilter and challenge the viewer emotionally but they can also be very appealing. We're not always holding our heads at angles that give us straight horizon lines so skewing things in an image can have a powerful effect.
6) Think About Triangles
When it comes to composition, triangles are your friend. They occur naturally around us all the time and it's simply a matter of seeing them and taking advantage. This doesn't mean you need to have a literal triangle in your image but rather using triangles to relate objects to one another. In theory, the triangle that connects three objects in your photo will create an eye-line. Triangles give the eye a path into the photograph and holds it there, directing it where to look next.
7) Break The Rules
When composing a photograph, it's important to keep these rules in mind however they're not the only important elements of a great photo. Your own creativity and uniqueness could be exactly what the photo needs to be successful. If something looks pleasing to you, it is probably pleasing to other people as well. Don’t ignore your own eye for beautiful imagery in order to follow the rules. Being different can be a beautiful thing.
To take your photographs to the next level, you need to have an understanding of these basics. As mentioned above, these are not hard and fast rules but they are a great way to help you focus your efforts, especially if you are just starting out. You can’t create new rules unless you know what the old ones are, right?
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