Earthbound Light - Nature Photography from the Pacific Northwest and beyond by Bob Johnson
Online Ordering
Recent Updates

Photo Tip of the Week

Decisions, Decisions

Composition is a series of decisions. If you pay attention to what you are doing and think things though, you may just surprise yourself.

First you have to choose your main subject. Sometimes you just stumble upon a subject that catches your eye. Other times it may be the result of extensive research and planning. Even if you think you'll find a given subject at the end of your travels, things don't always work out as you think they will. But something will always be there and you need to be open to whatever awaits you. Pay attention and think about your options, both planned and unplanned.

But not all images of a give subject will come out the same. In addition to obvious choices such as aperture and shutter speed, you have to decide where to position yourself relative to your subject. Things look different when viewed from above than they do from a lower vantage point. What you see behind your subject may differ widely when viewed from the other side. Not every subject lends itself to the same choice of vantage point. Decide what works best for your subject.

As you move closer to your subject, it appears to increase in size. As you step back, it shrinks. But by moving some given distance forward or back, the relative distance between you and various objects in your field of view changes by different ratios. The closer something is to you to begin with, the more affect any given change in distance will appear to have. If you start ten feet from your subject and step forward a few paces, you will likely have cut the distance between you and it in half. At the same time, background objects that may have been hundreds of yards away will seem to change little in size in response to your movement. Careful attention relative distance ratios can allow you to exaggerate or diminish the perspective of a scene. To take advantage of such choices in turn will dictate what focal length you will need to best capture your subject.

The lighting on your subject will change too as you move around. Front lighting on one side will become side lighting or back lighting as you circumambulate your subject. It goes without saying that lighting conditions outdoors vary widely based on time of day as well. You have to think about what type of lighting will work best for your subject and when that lighting will exist as well as where you need to be to best take advantage of it. And if lighting conditions and weather don't cooperate, you have to acknowledge what is happening and adjust your plans accordingly. Sometimes you have to decide to come back another time, focusing on a different subject in the present.

You have a choice too where to position your subject and other elements within the frame, and whether to orient that frame in the horizontal or vertical direction. The eye sees more than the camera does, and the brain constructs an even more expansive panorama based on that sensory input. By contrast, the frame imposed by the camera and lens crops some elements out while it emphasizes others that remain visible. Even within the frame you have decisions to make. Position your subject bulls-eyed in the middle of the frame and your image will have a different feel than if you utilize the rule of thirds or some other framing option.

These choices are all yours to make even if by making some you create tradeoffs for others. Just as your choice of aperture may dictate the shutter speed needed to retain the same exposure, your choice of position or perspective may create problems that impinge on other decisions you wish you could make but now can't. You can of course neglect some of these decision points just as you can leave your camera on fully automatic if you so choose. But attention to detail and careful consideration can improve your results, keeping you in control of your composition by keeping you in control of the decision making process that leads to it. By taking an active role in the creative process, you may just surprise yourself.

Date posted: March 17, 2013


Copyright © 2013 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
Permanent link for this article

Previous tip: Your Composition Toolbox Return to archives menu Next tip: Performing Unnatural Acts in Photoshop

Related articles:
Some Thoughts on Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
Shooting Quickly versus Thinking More
Seeing What's in Front of You
The Goldilocks Principle in Photography

Tweet this page       Bookmark and Share       Subscribe on Facebook via NetworkedBlogs       Printer Friendly Version

Machine translation:   Español   |   Deutsch   |   Français   |   Italiano   |   Português

A new photo tip is posted each Sunday, so please check back regularly.

Support Earthbound Light by buying from B&H Photo
  Buy a good book
Click here for book recommendations
Support Earthbound Light
  Or say thanks the easy way with PayPal if you prefer

Home  |  About  |  Portfolio  |  WebStore  |  PhotoTips  |  Contact  |  Comments  |  Updates  |  Support
Nature Photography from the Pacific Northwest and beyond by Bob Johnson

View Cart  |  Store Policies  |  Terms of Use  |  Your Privacy