Photo Composition, or, Seen through the lens…

Hello there! Today I felt like tackling another technical topic. Last time I did that I focused  (excuse the pun) on Depth of Field. This time I want to discuss composition.

What with photography becoming an everyday occurrence now that the digital era has hit us, it sometimes, occurs to me that everyone is a photographer.  But that is quite simply not true. Somebody once said…”saying that owning a camera makes you a photographer is like me saying owning a car makes me a Formula 1 champion when in fact all I am is a car owner”…But it is true that many of us can take some very beautiful pictures. I will not dispute that, but are they good photographs?

What makes a photograph good or bad, is quite subjective you might say. What appeals to one person may not appeal to another and that is also true.

However there are some simple techniques one can apply to make a photograph stand out from the rest. One of these techniques falls under the heading Composition.

What is composition? Simply pointing a camera in the general direction of your subject is not composition.

Composing a photograph means to position your subject in the area being photographed so that the person looking at the photograph sees more than just the subject you present. Say for argument there is a field with a few horses standing about grazing, picture the scene…point the camera in the general direction. look through the viewfinder and snap. What do you get in the picture. A tar-pole fence surrounding the field, some shrubs half concealing a feeding trough, maybe some of the horses facing away from you and so on.

Now rather take some time to analyse the scene. Move around a bit. Come closer to the fence. Doing that may change the perspective slightly so that now instead of a partial view of the trough, you can see a horse busy feeding…. Perhaps you move to the other side of the field to get a frontal view or profile of the horse rather than its rear-end.  And so on…

If there is a horse  moving slowly across the field from left to right – position the horse in the view finder more to the left of the image. This creates the idea that the horse has room to move.

Say you are taking portrait of a friend at the seaside…filling the frame of the camera with his/her face is good, but think about the story you are telling if you take a step backwards, shift the position of the person in the image to one side and include some of the beach scene…or to exclude something you don’t want in the picture. See the example of the rose photos. On thw face of it both photos look lovely , but the one has an ugly piece of white facia from the roof in the bottom right corner – removed just by moving my feet a step to the right. No software editing required…

If there is a pathway, or a mountain or bush trail and your friends are hiking the trail – the obvious view is the straight ahead view – you get a nice picture of the backs of peoples. heads. Instead, one could step off the trail and take a “side view” picture with the trail and your friends angled slightly in the frame from bottom left to top right…

A simple mechanism to employ is “The Rule of Thirds”. Most cameras have this as a feature and it can be switched on or off from the settings menu. What this is, is a tic-tac-toe grid in the  viewfinder. Basically 9 equal sized squares spread out across the image you see. 2 lines down  and 2 lines across dividing the image into vertical and horizontal thirds.

Always try to position the main subject in your field of view on one of the vertical lines. So that 2/3 of the image is open space.

Just getting the person your are photographing to turn the upper torso & shoulders away from  the camera slightly already improves the shot. Tilting the head a little, dropping or raising the chin – eyes directly toward the lens, or shifted just a fraction to one side…all these are useful to make your picture more interesting.

Say there are some pretty flowers you want to photograph, you could take a general landscape of the flowers, or perhaps fill your viewfinder with a close up of one flower…I like to lie down on my stomach and using a large aperture (to get a shallow depth of field and blur the background somewhat) with the camera lens at the same height as the flower which is positioned to one side of the frame. This produces an interesting shot of the flower while not excluding it’s surroundings.

Having said all this though, rules are made to be broken. It is your right as a photographer to capture the image the way you see it.

I once took a photo (included in the gallery) of a lion in the Kruger National Park – the picture was of the lion’s head – face to the front. He was lying in some wild sage brush savouring the early morning sun. Everybody was looking and admiring and photographing the lioness lying out in the open. Nobody saw the male lying a few metres behind her camouflaged by the sage.

Some people (photographers) criticised this picture as being too full of spaghetti ( the sage brush) that was framing the face of the lion – I remember the moment differently and I know the story so for me the picture is perfect – a memory. This picture I had enlarged to size A1 and is hanging, framed, in my living room.

In wrapping up I want to say – in order to improve your photography, take as many pictures as you can. Try to experiment with different perspectives, angles, highs and lows. You will be amazed at how interesting your pictures start to become…

Happy shooting!

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