PT Photography School Tip of the Week: Make Familiar Scenes Look New With These Compositional Techniques
Manipulate settings to overexpose or underexpose an image to bring an artistic and dramatic element to the shot.
Open your aperture to minimize depth of field. This will allow you to focus on a foreground element while having gorgeous bokeh in the background.
When photographing a common subject, get up high or down low to see how a change in your eye level impacts the images you create.
Use man-made or natural objects to frame your subject. Having a frame within a frame brings more interest to the shot and helps direct the viewer’s eye deeper into the image.
To change how your subjects look, try for an abstract composition by using a long exposure and zooming in while the shot is being taken.
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One of the difficulties that many photographers have is finding the time to go out and shoot in new locations. That means that most of us have to continue to use familiar territory near home or work as our go-to subject matter.
But just because you tend to use the same subjects doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways that you can spice up your compositions. In this week’s tip, we’ve got five compositional techniques that will bring new life to old subjects.
Play With Exposure
Not every photo you take needs to be perfectly exposed. In fact, using overexposure or underexposure on purpose can generate very artistic and visually interesting results. This technique is especially useful if you’ve got a subject that you can really only photograph from one vantage point.
Set your camera to manual mode and play with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to see how overexposure or underexposure might change the mood of the shot and provide a boost of drama. You can also use your camera’s exposure compensation feature to dial in a bit of overexposure or underexposure. Whatever method you choose, be sure to check your composition for features that lend themselves to one type of exposure or the other. A sunset, for example, would work best as an underexposure. A bright scene featuring water or snow could benefit from a bit of overexposure.
Change the Depth of Field
Just like with exposure, not every frame you shoot needs to be perfectly in focus. Manipulating the depth of field will give you the chance to highlight a small feature of a commonly photographed scene while also affording you the opportunity to work on your bokeh skills.
To get a really dramatic depth of field, dial in a large aperture, say, f/1.8-f/5.6. Once you’ve done that, find an object that will provide some foreground interest and focus on that object. It will be in sharp focus while the background will be nice and blurry. Just remember when placing the foreground object in the frame to keep the rule of thirds in mind. Position yourself such that the object adds to the shot and doesn’t overwhelm the frame, as was done in the image above.
Get Some Perspective
One of the easiest ways to bring life to a subject you often photograph is to change your perspective. Look for ways to get up higher, like climbing a nearby hill (or even a tree!). Get down lower by kneeling down or even lying down. If you’ve got a drone, try taking overhead shots for a totally different view. The point is that altering your vantage point, even quite subtly, can have a significant impact on the way in which you’re able to capture the scene. Try to avoid your usual shooting spot and find new vantage points from which to take photos.
Go For a Frame Within the Frame
When you get tired of a subject, try finding ways to introduce a frame within a frame. A doorway, an opening in the trees, and the slats of a fence come immediately to mind. By placing a manmade or natural frame within your shot, you give viewers a fresh perspective on the scene because their eyes are pushed deeper into the shot toward the primary subject. Pair the frame with another element, like the rushing water of a river, and you’ve got a great combination of compositional features that add drama and engage the viewer's’ eye.
Try Something Abstract
If you want to push your boundaries, try composing an abstract shot of a familiar scene. An easy way to do this is to introduce motion blur. Set your shutter speed to 1-2 seconds, then, while the exposure is being made, zoom in on an aspect of the scene. The result will be a wild, blur-filled shot with streaking lines running from the center of the frame outwards, as though you’re in some sort of warp speed situation. The subject of the image might not be all that recognizable, but the abstract effect can be very cool!
Whether you use the same park by your house for most of your shots or you frequently visit an iconic landscape like the Grand Canyon, these quick and easy compositional tips will help you bring new life to the subjects you often photograph. None of these techniques is especially difficult to employ, they just take a little time and practice and can be used with virtually any subject matter. Get some practice with each technique by visiting a spot you like to photograph and see how you can get a new take on an old subject.