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Photo Tip of the Week

Composition Quick Tip Bonanza

In part, this week's article presenting a bonanza of compositional tips was written as an exercise and reminder for myself. But it's always nice to share with others. Enjoy.

Find a compelling subject, and then forget about it.
You head out with your camera, in search of something to photograph. Once you find something you like, it's tempting to jump straight to exposure and focus so you can get on with pressing the shutter release so you can record your prize for posterity. Granted, some subjects likely won't stand still if you don't move quickly, but when possible, I'd suggest slowing down a bit. So long as your subject isn't imminently going anywhere, leave it be, and consider the compositional possibilities of the situation. Keep your subject in the frame, but otherwise forget about it. Use it as an element in your composition, not a substitute for it. Good composition leads to good photographs.

If you can't find a good subject, skip to the next step anyway.
Sometimes, you may not be able to find a good subject. Rather than get discouraged, choose whatever does happen to be at hand, and explore how best to compose it. You will be surprised at how often you can still end up with a good image this way. In the right light, and pleasingly arranged in the frame, most any random rock or plant can form the basis of a good composition.

Composition is more important than subject matter.
If you're photographing for a new nature field guide, clearly the subjects you shoot matter. But if you're interest lies more in the realm of fine art or just cool images you can be proud of, the subject matter you shoot should take the back seat to how you photograph it. The specific subject may just serve as an excuse for taking the photo. Most everything in nature has been photographed already. If you want to stand out from the crowd, look for new ways to photograph your subject, not new things to photograph.

Look for diagonal lines. Even better yet, look for triangles.
So, if we now focus on composition rather than subject, one of the first things to look for area diagonal lines. And if those lines form a triangle, so much the better. Diagonal lines are dynamic, and therefore generally better than horizontal or vertical lines. Diagonals that lead in from the corner or edge of the frame serve as a welcome invitation for the viewer's eye to access your image. Lines that are formed only in the mind of the viewer, connecting two points in the frame, can work just as well as more overtly present lines too. Sometimes they can work better.

Curves are groovy.
The curved shape of an edge or other line that winds through an image can be well worth exploring. An S-curve leading lead can be exceptionally groovy. A good S-curve is almost always worth photographing. And curves are everywhere in nature. I like that.

Repeated shapes are good, but don't take this too literally.
The echo of a repeated, iconic shape can form the basis of a great image. But its best if those repetitions aren't exact copies of the original. There's no need to hit people over the head with this. The subtle echo or a foreground object in the shape of a cloud, or the contrasting echo of three differently colored flowers retreating into the frame are both generally better than literal duplication of forms.

Unlike real life, photographs are two-dimensional.
Having a subject of a contrasting color or tone from the background helps make it stand out. Sometimes, all it takes to achieve this is a slight change of shooting position. Something not generally appreciated sufficiently is that photographic images are two-dimensional projections of the real world. Two three-dimensional objects, one in front of the other, will become a single shape in a photo if they are too similar. Contrast keeps them distinct.

Messy backgrounds make for messy compositions.
A busy background can create confusion, preventing the intended subject from standing out from the crowd. Compositional lines and shapes will be more clear when the background is clean and relatively uniform.

Check and double check.
So long as you do have the luxury of a little time to work your composition, spend just a little more time to make sure you are truly satisfied with what you have come up with. Double check things before you press the shutter release.

Rinse, lather, repeat.
Since a photo image is two-dimensional, I've found that some compositional problems aren't apparent until you see things flattened after you shoot. Luckily, cameras have an LCD display screen on the back. Not only can you check the histogram for exposure using this display, you can use it to triple check your composition. Things that looked good in the viewfinder may appear less so on the camera LCD display. If you don't like what you see, make the needed adjustments to your composition and try again. So long as your subject is willing to wait, you can tweak things repeatedly, each time getting closer and closer to what you hope for in your imagination.

Date posted: March 26, 2017


Copyright © 2017 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Iterative Composition
More on Using a Tripod to Help With Composition
Your Composition Toolbox
The Relationship of Composition Rules to Good Composition
Composition Always Happens, With or Without You

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