Composition In Photography

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composition in photography and framingOkay. So you may be wondering. Jeff why start with composition in photography? How about f-stops, ISO, shutter speed. You know the whole exposure triangle thing?

In fact, before we get started right here, if you've not had a chance to look over my primer article on composition in photography… you might want to head over and start there … I'll wait 😉

I gotta start somewhere right? I'll get to all those other things you might think you want to learn… really… all in good time.

But here's my thinking on where to start.

In today's digital world just about everyone always has a camera with them in the form of their cell phone. And these days these cell phones are really no slouches at taking pictures. Everyone these days is taking pictures!

So, if you're taking a whole lot of pictures, picture after picture everywhere you go and maybe you're not even thinking about upgrading your equipment beyond your cell phone (at least at this point). But, you just want to take/compose better pictures this could be the only article you need.

Developing Good Photography Habits

For everyone else just beginning their journey into photography and for you too this is a great place to craft your thinking. Even before getting into the more techie aspects of the settings on or what your DSLR can do!

Hence my reference to this Ansel Adams quote on composition. “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

So let Ansel's quote kickoff my thinking on why we would start with taking a look at and learning why is composition important in photography and just what makes a good composition in photography.

Whether the picture you take comes from your cell phone or an expensive DLSR camera body, the end result you will have is a composition of something. Right? Every picture is a composition of something. It's something that the taker of the picture wanted to capture.

Quick disclaimer here before we get started on the basic elements of what makes a good composition in photography

Not all photographs are taken for the same reason or purpose. For example, we hike a bunch and take a bunch of pictures along the way of the trail. The general scenery, landmarks, etc. These types of photographs are more for just personal use and memories of the day and accounts of what type of trail we were on etc. For these types of pictures there is much less thought goes into the composition of the picture since I'm not trying to make a gallery type of shot out of a personal meaning moment.

But that being said, I don't just turn off my composition brain cells. There is always thought to the composition that I'm looking at through the view finder. Once you begin thinking about the various compositional elements, my hope is that they will indeed become ingrained and more automatic for you. Then you can decide what the purpose of your photograph will be. And how much time you want to spend on getting the precise compositional elements into the frame.

Remember as we go forward, at the end of the day there are really no rules in photography or in the photos that you take. So don't get locked up when taking your pictures. That completely defeats the purpose! If you like it, then it's a good image!

Just The Basic Composition Guidelines

For our purposes here I'd like to over some of the “established” photography composition guidelines. These can be generally applied to almost any scene or image you're about to capture. These guidelines will definitely help your images achieve a greater impact and eye “catch-ability”.

In a very short time the guidelines will be second nature to you and even have you looking at your scene in a much different way! And what's really cool as you progress forward, you'll actually be able to look back on the timeline of your picture taking and physically be able to see the improvement in you captures as time goes by!

And this includes yours truly!

Don't ever think or get to the point that you've mastered the art of the shot. This is where creativity goes to die.

Let's get started!

Why Is Composition In Photography Important

Composition in photography is really where you're not just capturing an image. You're also trying to capture the attention and the imagination of anyone who looks at your image. Whatever their perspective or experiences, composition is what “speaks” to the viewer.

In order to do this you have to try to influence the eye movement of your potential viewers. You want to draw their eye to the subject of the picture itself and avoid eye glancing distractions.

Once these photographic composition guidelines become 2nd nature to you, you'll soon see how universal they really are. You'll be able to immediately spot them in professional photographs and see what the difference is between a photograph and just an image.

At this point just to remind you… we'll get to camera settings in due time. Let's not get too far over our skis right now. Learn how to work your composition and tell the story of the scene. All the camera setting in the world won't overcome a poor or fuzzy composition.

Since I just mentioned that one of the goals of  effective composition is influencing the eye movement of the viewer. Or, leading their eye to what you want them to focus on. Let's start with the concept of Leading Lines.

How To Use Leading Lines To Improve Your Composition In Photography :

When we as humans look at a photo our eye is naturally drawn along lines. Naturally as in it is an unconscious thought.

As the photographer taking the picture, we should be thinking about how we'll compose the shot (place it in the frame) to utilize any natural leading lines within the composition. By doing this, you will affect the way a viewer “sees” the image.

Using leading lines in your composition allows you to take your viewers' eye on a journey across your image. This will land them at the subject matter of your composition!

Leading lines come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They can be straight, diagonal, curvy, etc. In fact, in landscape photography, cloud formations are some of the best and most dramatic leading lines available to us photographers!

Let's take at a real example of a photograph that I took of my hike to West Creek Falls.

Waterfalls are not only beautiful, but for the purpose of this article they make for a great example of what we're after here. Water and gravity combine together to form great leading lines. Water will seek a level and flowing water will carve a path getting to that level. Thus creating very natural leading lines for us photographers to use!

Analyzing The Leading Lines

Take moment to look at the yellow lines I've added to this picture. They show the leading lines I was after as I first eyeballed the composition. Then I began looking at it through the viewfinder on the camera.

From the lower right working clockwise, I wanted to position the camera where I could pick up on the natural shoreline of the rocks. Remember, leading lines don't have to be perfectly straight. We just want to assist the eye to move throughout the image. Also the rocky shoreline works as both a balance element and a foreground element to the photographic composition. More on balance and foreground to come.

The lower left leading line is easy to spot as the opposite side shoreline has been carved by the flow of the water.

The upper left leading line may be initially harder to spot. But look closely how the granite formation of the rock and the shadows that are cast lead directly down the the falls!

The upper right, although not as defined still points to and follows the natural flow of the waterfall.

Putting all the together as teammates in the composition you can see (and now feel) how these lines take your eye to the subject matter which is the falls themselves!

composition in photography and leading lines

At this point you may be asking does a good composition require multiple leading lines? Certainly not. Leading lines is but one element of overall composition in photography as you'll learn. However, as you visually evaluate a potential image capture, if they are available try to work them in for greater impact.

Before you go out and make leading lines your mantra in all of your compositions, keep in mind I'm just touching on the basics to get your started. Hopefully stimulating you to learn even more and improve. Leading lines are but one element of many. In fact, there are many subsets of leading lines and complimentary elements such as continuity and symmetry and many other techniques that you should add to your tool-belt as you grow.

Let's keep moving and building… up next The Rule Of Thirds!

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