Photo Tip of the Week: How To Improve Your Composition Skills (Part 1)
Robert Keeley shares some simple ideas you can use to improve your composition skills.
Along with lighting and emotion, composition is among the most important considerations in the making of a photograph. Where you place objects within a frame, and how those objects relate to each other, has a critical effect on the way people read and respond to your images.
There are a few basic rules of composition that all photographers should know. Of course, great pictures can be made without adhering to any rules, but either way the rules provide a useful foundation – even if you choose to ignore them.
Composition is essentially design and it requires careful consideration of the elements you want to include in your picture and, just as importantly, the elements you want to leave out. It also considers things like shapes, patterns, form, textures, light, and colour. All of these elements affect the composition of an image and can be used individually and collectively to make stronger pictures. That’s the starting point of good composition.
There are five ideas of composition that I come back to regularly – we'll look at two now and three more in part two of this series, which we will post next week.
RULE OF THIRDS
The 'rule of thirds' is possibly the best known concept of composition. Divide your frame into thirds vertically and horizontally – just like a noughts and crosses grid – then place the key element or elements at one (or more) of the points where the lines intersect. This creates a pleasing design to the eye. It’s simple, but it works. But remember, this isn’t a mathematical formula (though its close cousin, the Golden Mean – a ratio of 5:8 rather than 1:2 – is one). You can also follow this principle when you have two key elements, if you position one closer to the camera than the other. This will draw your eye through a scene.
To use the rule of thirds effectively try dividing your frame into a ‘noughts and crosses’ grid, and aim to place the key elements of your composition on the lines or intersections to create a pleasing composition. Here the dinghy was placed roughly on one intersecting point, while the horizon line runs along one grid line. Composition rules don’t have to be strictly adhered to – use them mainly as guidelines to strengthen your pictures.
Here the photographer has placed the model's eye at the intersection of two intersecting thirds and has shot with a moderate telephoto focal length to flatten the features of the face, creating a strong composition with minimal elements.
The use of patterns is another pleasing way to design an image. Patterns can be found everywhere in nature, as well as in man-made environments. You can find them in rows of trees, brick walls, arches, and even ploughed fields. The fact that you notice them explains why they work in pictures. Once again, our eyes are drawn to patterns, and good photographers recognise their value. It’s worth noting that subtle patterns can work as well as very distinctive patterns, but if your viewer can’t see them, you’ve probably made them too subtle!?
Patterns can be easily found in built structures, but its worth searching for them when you’re shooting nature as well. Here a windblown field of grass created a strong pattern.
This aerial photo draws you in with its patchwork pattern of lines and rectangles.
For more in-depth information about composition be sure to see the upcoming feature in the November issue of Australian Photography + Digital.