Photographic Composition

(C) ImagesKione

“Beauty can be seen in all things; seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.” – Matt Hardy

The latest SLR out of your price range? Take heart! It has been said that it’s not so much the camera you use, as the way you see.

Although I believe that, like most artistic vision, one either has a gift for it or not, I also believe that it’s something that can be nurtured in all of us. Do I have a sense of rhythm? Yes. Does that make me the best dancer in the world? No. Do I have a gift for observation? Yes. Does that make me the best poet or photographer? No.

What’s crucial to understand here is that if you can hone your interpretation of the world, and speak intelligibly and honestly about it, no matter the size or reach, you can feed your soul and maybe that of others.

Where does the composition of a photograph fit in? Well, maybe with a few hints, you can make the difference between ‘snaps’ and photographs. And with today’s technology, what is a camera but the most accessible way to capture your interpretation of what you see?

I must begin by saying that I myself am still learning photography. I get asked ‘how did you do that?’ or ‘what should I do?’ fairly frequently and unfortunately, I have to admit that most of it, for me, is luck. I would hazard to say I have no technical skill. I am building on this, however, in the mean time I rely on the most basic of things – my eye. So please don’t look to me for technical advice; that I will leave to those more professional than me. But hopefully with the following, I can advise you on how to see.

Firstly – I want you to stop lamenting how you don’t have this or that camera. Same goes for editing software, for that matter, though I will admit to a lesser extent. For our purposes here, that is not needed yet. I still managed to get some impressive shots with a little Powershot point-and-shoot. I will be blunt: only the talentless man blames his tools. Those of you who are reading this I take it are not talentless or this naive, but just in case!

Secondly – I want you to stop thinking of yourself in terms of limitations. This goes for what ‘kind’ of photographer you feel you want to become. If you’re focusing so much on the plateau you feel you’ll reach, you’re not going to push yourself as hard and achieve what you might have achieved.

Thirdly – I want you to not be so focused on what you’re photographing as how you’re photographing it. You don’t need to be in Rome or a rose garden to take beautiful photographs. It’s all in how you look at it!

Now that that’s out of the way, how about a crash-course in composition? Here are some things I try to remember with camera in hand:

  1. What do I see – or how do I see – that no one else has before? An example: you come across a pretty rose. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to take a picture of a rose, but our natural instinct is to ‘snap’ the flower either looking down, or in profile; either way, the rose is somewhat flat, somewhat boring. Why not try from a different angle? What’s catching your attention about it? The shapes? The way the light hits it? That little beetle hiding among the petals? The sepals underneath and how they nearly touch the thorns?

    (C) ImagesKione

  2. How can I make this everyday object interesting? An example: I will frequently go with my dad to collect small trees that he can train into bonsai. You wouldn’t think ditches are very exciting places to get photographs. Start training your eye to find shape, texture, color, light, contrasts, poeticism, rather than objects with names. You do not necessarily have to be a photojournalist.(C) ImagesKione
  3. Linked to the above: how are you going to compose the photograph itself? You need to understand that whatever is in the frame, like whatever words are on the page in a poem or the branches of a bonsai, need to be put to work. In a photograph, yes, the eye may get a first impression of the frame as a whole, but on closer inspection, you want the eye to be drawn around the frame in a particular fashion depending on the effect you want to achieve. A good way to practice/illustrate this is the concept of ‘thirds’ – dividing your frame up into thirds in order to draw the eye across it, giving the illusion of motion. (This is from the idea of the ‘Golden Ratio’, which suggests the composition most aesthetically pleasing to the human eye. Look it up sometime.)

    (C) Images Kione

    (C) ImagesKione

I often use the ‘thirds’ rule of thumb because I like the contrast and asymmetry of busy and emptiness. However, there’s nothing wrong with symmetry and indeed, this can be found in some of my architecture shots.

(C) ImagesKione

Don’t forget fun with perspective to add some extra interest:

(C) ImagesKione

(C) ImagesKione

Composition will affect your photographs’ mood as much as color or subject. For example, think about the mood of the senior portrait photograph below. Sure, part of the effect is achieved by the model’s expression, but what would it have been like had the composition been different? Straight-on, for example?

(C) ImagesKione

Photo-editing will need to be a completely different post, but I hope this has given you food for thought! Share what you compose! Show me something unexpected!

Most of all – have fun please. Life’s too short!

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3 Responses to “Photographic Composition”

  1. Some very nice and unique photos you have here!

  2. […] Experiments With Reason We like making things. Usually without quite knowing what we're doing. « Photographic Composition […]

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