Tip of the Week: Five Essential Composition Tips That Will Make Your Photos Shine
- When photographing chaotic scenes, find ways to isolate your subject from the chaos. Use natural elements, like sunlight or shadows, to achieve isolation, or use human-made objects, like doorways or windows.
- Pay careful attention to any distracting elements that creep into the sides of the frame or the background. Take a couple of extra seconds to review the scene to ensure when you click the shutter you’ve got the image you want.
- Using patterns immediately catches the viewer’s eye. Patterns can be overt, somewhat hidden, or even layered with other patterns. Doing so gives an added layer of dimension to the shot.
- Symmetry and asymmetry are excellent tools to use to get a more interesting composition. Try getting perfect balance from left to right or top to bottom in some shots, then challenge yourself to purposefully frame up an asymmetrical shot as well.
- Foreground interest and leading lines are two excellent ways to add depth and dimension to your images. Both provide the viewer with more information about the spatial relationship of elements in the scene.
It is often said that it’s not the camera you use, but the way you compose an image that makes the most significant impact on how viewers respond to it. Having top-shelf equipment doesn’t hurt, but an image taken with a $10,000 Hasselblad can still be visually off-putting while an image taken with your iPhone can transport viewers to a completely different place.
This week, our Tip of the Week focuses on five critical aspects of composition, that, when used well, will make an immediate, positive impact on your photographs.
Compose the Chaos
If you’re photographing a scene that is extremely busy and complex – like the open air market in the image above – it’s important that you compose the image such that your intended subject stands out from the crowd.
A very simple method of bringing order to a chaotic scene is by isolating your subject in some way. You can use natural elements, like sunlight or shadows, trees, geographic features, or even fog to force the viewer’s eye toward your subject. You can also utilize human-made elements like doorways, tunnels, or windows, again, to direct the viewer’s eye toward the focal point of the scene.
Mind the Edges
In the rush to snap an image before the moment passes, it’s easy to neglect what’s happening on the edges of the frame. There might be a branch, an odd shadow, a random arm, or some other feature that you didn’t notice at the time, but upon review completely ruins the look and feel of the image.
The key here is to work with purpose, but not so quickly that you end up with an unpleasing composition. Take just a couple of seconds to scan the frame through your viewfinder to ensure there’s nothing distracting happening around the edges. Do the same with the background as well! That extra moment of using a critical eye can mean the difference between getting a wonderful image like the one above, or one that falls completely flat.
Look for Patterns
Our eyes are naturally drawn to patterns, so incorporating them into your images will make for a much more pleasing composition. But using patterns doesn’t have to be overt, as in the image above.
Instead, try to think of ways to use patterns in a less obvious way. For example, in this image of a forest road, notice how the gentle curves of the road are mimicked in some of the tree branches and tree trunks.
Incorporating multiple patterns creates a lot of visual interest as well. In this image of Shanghai, China, the circular pattern of the roadway in the mid-ground is juxtaposed in front of the very linear lines of the bridge towers and the smoke stack in the background, making for a highly layered and depth-filled image.
Use Symmetry or Asymmetry
Much like patterns, our eyes are naturally drawn to symmetry. Images that are composed with balance from left to right or top to bottom are highly engaging to view. This goes for symmetry in terms of form, shape, and color as well.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for composing an image with an obvious dis-balance. The rule of thirds plays perfectly into this notion – shifting the subject to the left or right, or top or bottom of the center of the image instantaneously makes it a more interesting photograph to view.
Get Some Depth
Even though photos are only two-dimensional, the manner in which they are composed can lend to the feeling of depth and three dimensions.
A simple solution for creating depth is to include foreground interest in the shot. In the image above, the rock formations in the immediate foreground provide context for the distance to the formations in the mid-ground and background. As a result, the viewer has clues regarding the vastness of the landscape they are viewing.
Leading lines are also a great way to introduce an element of dimension into a photo. Roads, fences, and even the lines of buildings work wonders for directing the viewer’s eye through a photograph. By taking viewers from point A to point B, leading lines give this image of a country road the added dimension it needs.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of compositional techniques you can use to give your image more pop, they are certainly a great place to start. As you practice your craft, you will likely discover that some compositional elements are better suited to your work than others. Of course, photography is all about expression, so finding your niche is great! But don’t be afraid to stretch your boundaries and get out of your comfort zone from time to time as well.