We have another Photo Premium tutorial exclusively available to Premium members today. In this tutorial, we’ll take a look at some of the more advanced techniques of composition. Learn more after the jump!
As most photographers would say: it’s both a science and an art. As we start to learn the basics of photography, we are engrossed in understanding all the technical details. The shooting modes, f/stops and depth-of-field, ISO settings or metering modes: all seem to come crowded together at the same time.
As we begin to understand the capabilities (or the limitations) of our camera, we also realize the importance of good composition. Poorly framed images easily catch our criticizing eye and we start to look for ways to make our images look more aesthetically appealing.
Perhaps the first compositional guideline most people learn is the rule of thirds. Beginners often slavishly follow it and easily overlook other “rules” of image making. Soon they find that this is not applicable everywhere and there are other areas of composition which can make a picture equally appealing. It then becomes a journey of trial and error and learning by looking at other people’s work.
This is what makes photography such a subjective area, an area where no compositional technique is absolutely right. However, it’s best to start with what is already established as a guideline. With the intermediate level photographer in mind, I will try to touch upon some of the more advanced compositional techniques of photography in this tutorial starting with the simplest and often overlooked one.
Keep it clean
When it comes to photographic composition, less is always more. Elements within a photograph should complement each other, not distract the viewer or create confusion. Every photograph tells a story and there should be one single subject of interest of that the story. Whether you are photographing on a riverbank or on a wedding day, simplicity is the key and the way to keep things simple is to ensure images are clutter free. There are a few techniques you can use to achieve it.
First, make sure there is plenty of room around the main subject. This does not mean making it tiny in comparison to the overall dimension of the image, but ensuing there is enough ‘breathing space” around it.
Focus on a particular object or subject in the scene. In following image, there are too many things in one frame: the stone bridge, the tree and the leaves, the waterfall, the rock boulders all add to the confusion.
Compare this to the image of the waterfall itself: there is one single subject of interest and every other element in the image (the rocks, the water pool, and the trees) is complementing it.
The next way to keep your images clean is to change your position. The following may be the photo an enthusiastic tourist will take right after entering a shopping mall. This is the inside view of the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney, Australia. There are too many objects here. Different imaginary lines flow all over place and take the eye in all different directions. Yes, it says it’s a big place, but what’s the main subject? What’s the story?
To look for a subject, we changed our position and went up the escalators and focused on a particular object: the hanging clock.
The next way to emphasize a single subject is to use cropping. An image may seem perfectly composed, the main subject in sharp focus with excellent lighting. But when you look at it later, it may seem there are one or more elements in it which just do not fit in. There is a simple solution to this, cropping in post processing. In the image below, the path in the park guides your eye inside the picture. Unfortunately, the building, the sky and the trees in the background all work as distracting elements.
And here is the cropped image:
Instead of cropping, use the zoom end of your lens. This will serve two purposes: it will fill the frame with your subject so you don’t have to crop it later and, if you are using a large aperture setting (low F value), you will be throwing the background out of focus, further accentuating on the foreground subject. This can be especially useful when you are shooting portraits.
Reflections are great for photographic composition. Glass windows, still water, brass doors or wet sand – they are all perfect mirrors for reflection. If the “mirror” happens to be water, then it needs to be perfectly still for you to get great results.
In the image below, there was no ripple in the waters of this canal in an island near Venice as I captured the reflection of the building one late afternoon .
If the reflecting surface is showing a large amount of bright space (for example sunlight on still water or a gray sky on a metal door), the camera is going to under expose the whole scene. You may want to move the bright portion out of the frame at the beginning, focus and meter the shot and then recompose with the reflective surface included.
Tinted glass windows are better at reflecting than normal see-through glass and that’s why modern office buildings can be such a great things to watch for reflection photography. Trees, fluffy white clouds in clear blue sky, another tall building nearby or even the urban street scene can be great subjects to photograph when they are coming off a glass surface.
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