Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Composition 101

This is a basic post for photographers just getting into photography, but it is also a great refresher for those of us who shoot professionally.  Composition is one of the most important lessons to learn in photography. It takes practice and skill to get it correct, and is easily learned using a point-and-shoot when your beginning.  If you try and learn this at the same time as full manual control it might become overlooked.

Great pictures don't always mean full manual settings like many pros believe.  The composition of a photo is key to creating amazing images.  Let's start off with the "Rule of Thirds" which is simple to understand once you see what I mean.  Below is a diagram showcasing the rule of thirds.  The "Rule of Thirds" is simply a way to compose your image by dividing it into sections.  The frame is visually divided into 3 even rows, and 3 even columns.

So how do you apply this to your images?  Try and move the elements into the individual thirds.  For landscapes, place your foreground feature in the bottom third, background in the middle, and sky in the top.  It's more appealing this way then placing the horizon in the middle (most of the time...).  This rule can apply to any type of work that you shoot.  Most action images typically look best when the athlete is one-third of the way into the image.  Here is an an action image I captured that really demonstrates this composition:


In this image, the athlete is right in the crosshair of the top third, and left third, moving into the frame.  The basketball hoop is in the middle third, and bottom brick wall is in the lower third.  The houses help frame the whole composition together by filling the side thirds.

Try and keep the rule of thirds in mind when you go out shooting next time and practice it tell you always think about it.  

As with all good rules, however, the best results can occur when they are broken.  Here's a shot that works great without the rule of thirds.  The athlete is in the center of the frame.  With some experience and depending on what your shooting, you'll learn when to use the rule of thirds to your advantage, or break it for your advantage!


There are tons of ways to compose a single image.  One of the key ingredients that make any image work, is finding a way to separate the subject from the background.  When you isolate your subject this way, it makes them pop more and helps the viewer know where to look.  A subject blending into the background is quickly lost in the image.  When picking an angle, look for a good contrast between subject and background.  If the subject is white, try and find a dark background, and vice-versa.  Flash is also a great way to isolate the subject.


Color is another key component of separating subject from background, and if you have a person in your shot, help them choose a clothing color that will isolate them.

Alway's be on the look out for interesting features that you can build the image around.  Such as a blade of grass, or a unique tree.  Adding objects/things of interest into the image can take a solid image to the next level.  Sure a skier jumping off a cliff is great, but add some crazy rock in the foreground and a starred out sun, and you have an incredible image!


Most great action images tell a story.  It's almost never just a "guy in the sky" where there is no environment.  Try to tell a story with your image.  Let the viewer know what's going on.  For action images, include where the athlete left the ground in the shot, and where he/she is going to land.  Show the beauty of the environment!  There is beauty all around us and as photographers we have the privilege of sharing the beauty that we see with everyone else.  

As with all photography techniques, practice and shooting for fun makes your composition better.  Shoot lots and don't be afraid to throw the camera in auto mode while you learn composition.  It helps de-clutter the mind and will make you better quickly!

That's the BUZZ for Today!  Please check back soon for more.


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