Photo Tip of the Week: How To Improve Your Composition Skills (Part 2)
In part two of our series on composition, Robert Keeley explains how you can use leading lines, framing devices and silhouettes to improve your pictures.
'Leading lines' draw our eye through a scene, but contrary to their
name, they don’t always have to be lines. A series of objects
photographed from the close foreground to the distant background will
work as well as a road will to create an illusion of depth, which is
what we are seeking when we use leading lines.
Patterns receding into the distance also work well to keep us interested in an image.
Leading lines are most obvious with features like roads, railway tracks, and rivers or creeks, but bear in mind they can be created by a series of repeating features which recede into the distance and draw our eyes through the scene. Note that in this image the horizon has also been placed on the lower horizontal third.
FRAME WITHIN A FRAME
This is simple and effective. To focus attention on your main
subject, search within your frame for another framing element. This can
include items like a doorway or a window, a curved tree branch or a
spread of branches around the edges of a frame. A framing device can be
quite subtle or distinctive. Depending on your key subject, either
approach can work to focus our attention on the main subject. The key
here is not to let the framing device overwhelm your main subject.
To emphasise any feature you want to make the key element of your composition, it sometimes works to try to find natural or man-made framing devices inside your scene. These help draw the eye to your main subject. Here a curving tree branch helps focus our attention on the distance peak. In other scenarios windows or doors will work just as well.
Silhouettes are great, and many amateurs spot them, and are keen to
photograph them. But amateurs frequently make the mistake of adding too
much “dead” black space into their shot, or merge two silhouettes into
an indistinct outline. Most often the dead space will be the ground area
along the bottom of the frame. To use the power of the great
orange/yellow light you’ll see at sunrise or sunset, find a distinctive
black outline to put against this light, then lower the featureless
ground line to near the bottom of your frame. Keep your outlines simple
and distinctive. And if you’re in doubt, forget about it, or look for
an entirely different approach. There are times when pictures should not
In this composition three design elements have combined very effectively to create an image with high impact. Importantly, the cyclist is silhouetted very distinctively. The rider is also positioned using the rule of thirds, and to round the image off the strong warm light of sunset adds some bold colour.
These are just a handful of the many ideas which can be used in composing your pictures. Great photographers have used them, but importantly they have also gone against these concepts when they recognise that will work just as well. Like most things in photography, knowledge comes with time and practice. Get out there and try these ideas, and then talk them over with fellow photographers. Time, practice, and feedback are the best ways to get better.
For more in-depth information about composition be sure to see the upcoming feature in the November issue of Australian Photography + Digital.