Beginnings Of Photo Composition

Beginnings Of Photo Composition
What is photographic composition?
The pleasing selection & arrangement of subjects within the picture area
Why does it matter?
The reason that it matters is that photo composition is the difference between a photo that hangs in a gallery for years, and a photo that sits in a frame on the wall in a house.
When creating a good picture, there are six guidelines to better photographic composition

  1) Simplicity
2) Rule of Thirds
3) Lines
4) Balance
5) Framing
6) Mergers

Simplicity: What is it and why does it matter?
Simplicity is when you give the main focus of your picture the most attention visually. The reason that it matters is that a picture that is lacking in simplicity is often a picture where multiple objects are capturing your attention all at once and you are not sure which object you are supposed to be focusing on. An example is the picture below. Unless you know what the photographer wanted you to focus on, you are not sure if the focus is the bridge, the telephone, or either of the cacti.

One way that this can be improved is to select a way in which there is one main focus and there is nothing behind the image that is pulling away from the intended main focus. Busier backgrounds tend to draw the focus away from the center of focus.
Another way this can be improved is to compose the picture so that the other elements of the shot compliment your center of interest. For example, if you are doing a shot of an antique building, try to only include things within the picture that work with the focus. Having something such as a parking lot or cars would draw from the feeling of antiquity. One example is below. Including the cars and the parking lot takes away from this picture because the cars have a newer feel while the mission has an older feel and the two styles do not mix very well.

Something else that is a decision that will need to be made is which orientation of the camera will provide the better shot: vertical or horizontal. In some pictures it is better to incorporate more of the background so that the viewer is able to get more of the story without an explanation. In other pictures it is better to incorporate less background and focus solely on the focus of the picture, much like the composition of a portrait where it is more important to capture the people than to capture the background.
A final thing that will help with simplicity composition is to avoid ‘bullseye’ photos. A bullseye photo is where the focus of the picture is dead center of the picture and tends to cause the subject to be less interesting due to looking as if the subject were simply placed there.

Rule of Thirds: What is it and why does it matter?
Rule of Thirds is a shooting technique that helps to reduce bullseye photos. The reason that it matters is that it relieves the picture of the static of an object that is simply centered in the middle of the shot and it gives the subject more life..
Firstly, as you prepare to take your picture, you should imagine that there is a tic-tac-toe board overlaying your picture. The four intersections created by the tic-tac-toe board are better options for the position of the center of interest. It’s position all depends on you and how it is that you would like the focus to be presented to viewers.

When the focus is of a moving subject, there is one important thing to remember. Always leave space in front of them, giving the illusion that they are moving into the picture and not out of the side closest to them.
When shooting a landscape shot you want to avoid splitting the picture exactly into two sections by having the horizon line in the center of the shot. The shot looks more appealing visually if there is an imbalance of sky and ground compared to an even amount of both.
An example is shown below. The top left picture is how many people take pictures with an overlay of the Rule of Thirds and the picture directly below it is how the image looks without the overlay. The top right picture is an example of using Rule of Thirds to better compose the picture and the bottom right is how it looks without an overlay.

Lines: What is it and why does it matter?
Lines in a picture make the picture more dynamic

Having diagonal as leading lines can strongly improve composition because they give the eye a path to follow towards the main focus of the pictures.

Having repetitive lines in the background help to bring more attention to the center of interest because they cause the center of interest to break the pattern and draw the eye.
Having what is known as the S curve in a picture is sometimes better than using straight lines because the relaxed curves are easier to look at compared to having tense lines.
Another technique is composing the picture to include imaginary geometric shapes. By adding geometric shapes a strong visual unity is added to the image.

Balance: What is it and why does it matter?
Balance is composing a picture so that the arrangement of light and dark areas, shapes and colors do not draw away from each other and compliment each other so that the photo is not lopsided.
One thing to keep in mind with balance is that having symmetrical balance in a picture not always the best way to compose the shoot because the picture is more often able to be separated into two different vertical pictures even though it might have been taken horizontally. When this happens the viewer’s attention tends to be split.
Instead of using symmetrically balanced photos, you could try using non symmetrically balanced photos. In most cases this type of balance is more pleasing to the eye because it does not break up the picture as much.

Framing: What is it and why does it matter?
When framing is used in reference to photo composition it is not referring to an actual frame or border on the outer edge of the picture. Framing composition is having objects within the foreground that give a frame, in a sense, of the center of focus. The reason that this technique matters is that a feeling of depth is provided, compared to there being no indications of the distance the center of focus is away. In the picture below, the bridge is given a feeling of depth from the grass and tree to the left and having the swirls of the rapids below it. Instead of just seeing the bridge, you get a sense for how far the bridge is from the photographer.
Using a frame depends on the focus of the picture, and if there is a way to compose the picture so that the frame adds to the picture instead of taking away from it.
When setting pictures that use framing, be sure to avoid mergers.

Mergers: What is it and why does it matter?
Mergers are one thing in pictures that people tend to overlook. A photo merger is when there is something behind the center of focus that distracting and possibly can spoil an image. One example of this is doing portraits out in the woods. Many people will take pictures and fail to see that there is a tree coming out of the top of the head of their subject. The picture below shows the same person, photographed in two different spots that are only feet from each other. In the first picture the photographer did not notice that the subject of the picture looks as if he is sprouting a tree out of the top of his head, while the second image has a more pleasing background and does not make the subject look as if he is sprouting a tree from his head.

Another type of photo merger is a border merger. This is when people within the picture are partially cut out of the picture, missing part of an arm or a leg or even their head. More often than not this type of merger is caused by a poor alignment from the photographer’s eye. The best way to fix this type of merger is to either zoom out or take a step or two back so that there is a small amount of space around every person intended to be in the picture.
One other type of merger is a near merger. These often are slightly less noticeable, but steal attention from the center of focus just as easily. This type of merger occurs when an object or objects are a bit too close to the main subject. This type of merger can be corrected by using a lower angle and only including one object within the picture, making sure that there is enough space between the object and the center of focus. One example is the first portrait below. The beach ball and the tip of the umbrella are too close form the girl’s face and draw attention away from her. In the second portrait there is only the girl and the frisbee in her hand and the frisbee is farther away from her face and is not as distracting.

Now that you know how to better compose your photos, next time I will cover the basic tools that you will be using most often in Adobe Photoshop CS5 to create unique and interesting effects on your pictures.

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