Take Composition and Your Photos by the Reins

maynards photo

In the first installment of our series on Photography we talked about the 3 main camera controls Aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO. If you missed it or want a refresher check it out here. Now we are going to talking about framing your photo, this is often referred to as composition. Don’t let this word composition give you stress, it is nothing more than the arrangement of the items in your photo. Whether that is a group of people, a dog and a chair or lake and some mountains behind it; it all stems from how you choose to arrange it through the lens. A key part of this process that seems to be overlooked a lot is, composition comes from what you choose to leave out of your photo just as much as what you choose to put in it.

Let’s get started with some pretty standard tips on this subject.

Rule of Thirds: One of the most popular rules in photography. So much so that most digital cameras and smart phones have the ability to place a 3×3 grid on your screen to aide in this exercise. The basic idea behind this rule is to not stick your subject directly in the center of the frame. It just holds true that photos are more interesting for the viewer when you break up the space in ratios other than by halves.

Rule of Thirds.

Rule of Thirds: The Horizon line is on the bottom third, and instead of putting the tree in the center it lies in the right third of the frame.

An example of what the grid looks like.

An example of what the grid looks like.

Leaving Space: The idea of “Leaving Space” plays into the Rule of Thirds quite naturally. If you are capturing a portrait of someone looking off into the distance, think about giving them a space to look into; even if what they are looking at isn’t visible. If you have a picture of someone and they are staring off to the left, don’t put the border of the photo right on top of where they are looking. Put the person on the right side of the frame and give them space to look into. The same holds true for movement, if you have a car or bicyclist moving across your image, don’t cut them off. Give them a place to move into, it creates a much more soothing experience for the viewer.

Rule of Thirds & Leaving Space.

Rule of Thirds & Leaving Space: The main focal point is the girl and I have given her room to look at something.

Showing the image with the "Rule of Thirds" grid.

Showing the image with the “Rule of Thirds” grid.

No Space.

An example of nowhere to look. It is much more abrupt and doesn’t allow your eye to float into empty space. You become stuck between the bar and the cat’s eye.

Fill the Frame: This one requires you to make a simple decision first. For example: you see a very interesting door knocker with intricate details that catch your eye. Is the door knocker itself the interesting part or is it the whole door or context that you find the door knocker in? If it is just the door knocker that has caught your eye, why bother putting anything else in the frame. Fill the frame with the object that caught your eye, your brain will fill in the rest for you when viewing the photo. Don’t waste precise space with filler, use your frame to show off all of the details, it will be a far more interesting photo.

Fill the Frame.

Filling the Frame: This is a prime example, there is no need to capture the whole owl to know what it is. The image has more details and becomes more dramatic.

Background: Not giving proper attention to your background has ruined more photos than anyone could ever count. You have captured the most perfect image only to find out when you get home it’s a big old mess, and you can barely discern your subject from its background. It is so easy to fall in this trap; I have done it at least a billion times. Excitement or fear of missing the shot has you taking your photo with such haste you don’t even bother to see what’s going on in the background. Another aide to this classic blunder is your eye has the ability to make things almost stand out all on its own. In turn the camera tends to flatten things, so you must be vigilant when it comes to this one. If there is no good angle to stand at to free things up for your subject consider these other two options. 1) Open up your aperture (f/1.4-2.8 works best) effectively decreasing your depth of field, this can allow you to blur your background and help emphasize your subject. 2) If changing your aperture isn’t possible you can also use a telephoto lens. Get closer to your subject so that the focus isn’t at infinity and this will help blur the background.

In this image I used f/1.8 to help isolate the two subjects from their busy background.

In this image I used f/1.8 to help isolate the two subjects from their busy background.

In this one I used a telephoto lens to isolate the subject from the background.

In this one I used a telephoto lens to isolate the subject from the background.

Check Your Corners: This goes hand in hand with background, and is almost like a subset of it. Before you snap your photo take one quick second to glance in all four of your corners. This goes a long way into avoiding adding a floating head from a passerby to your picture or half of a no parking sign. All unwanted bits of info that will take away from your finished product. It also goes the other way, make sure you have everything in the frame you want to capture. Both are frustrating, but leaving a crucial piece out makes me the most disappointed. Occasionally you can get lucky and crop a small piece out, but you can’t go back and add information.

By not keeping my eye on the prize I managed to cut off a piece of the back turret, making this image a failure.

By not keeping my eye on the prize I managed to cut off a piece of the back turret, making this image a failure.

Lampposts as Hats: Of honorable mention and always worth a comment. When taking pictures of friends or family look for things to be sporadically sprouting from their head; it can be unsettling. Lampposts, trees, road signs, etc.. have all shown themselves at inopportune moments; and are easily avoided. Either you are your subject take two steps to the left or right and problem solved.

These simple guidelines will help you end up with more keepers and less disappointment. Of course there are exceptions to all the rules, and happy accidents are great things, but not to be counted on. Like anything practice will only help your photography.

Any Questions? Comments. Did I leave something out? Please let me know and Happy Shooting!

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