Thursday, February 24, 2011

Elements of Photography Series - Composition

A new topic for me, I will begin with this entry, to discuss photography topics that will make you a better photographer, I call it my Elements of Photography Series and I kick the Series off with Elements of Composition. Please keep in mind that my focus in on landscape and wildlife photography, but many of the topics I discuss in this Series will be applicable to all types of photography.

What is composition? For a photographer, composition can be defined as the careful placement and arrangement of all elements in an image that matter. I have complied a list of twelve elements that matter or that should matter when you snap the shutter. I will discuss the first six in this blog entry and the next six in my next blog entry. It would be rare for an image to have all of these elements, but the more elements you can include the stronger your composition will be and you will be well on your way to taking better photos.

A highlighted and underlined word or set of words in my text below indicates a hyperlink to a image or document that supports the concept under discussion. Simply click on these links to be taken to the web page and view the image or document as it will open in its own window. Close the window and continue reading when finished.

  1. IMPACT - or engaging subject matter--does the image "WOW" the viewer. I have on several occasions stood at the edge of Horseshoe Bend just south of Page, Arizona photographing this bend in the Colorado River and it never fails that each and every person that approaches this viewpoint lets out a "WOW" as they peer over the edge into the canyon and river below. This "WOW" factor is hard to find, but you know when you have found it by listen to those at the location or listening to those who view your image.
  2. CREATIVITY - does your image standout from other images on the same subject. Anyone can drive up to Tunnel View in Yosemite Valley, hop out of the car and snap a nice image. This is known as an iconic location made famous by others who came before you. While there is nothing wrong with taking an iconic shot, it should not be the only shot you take. In this location what is likely to make your capture different from the others is your timing and what is happening with the light and the weather. You should also look to shoot from different perspectives from higher or lower vantage points. Night shots with star trails or moon phases will be less photographed than daylight images at an iconic location. Try zooming in and isolating a portion of the view or take multiple images for a panorama.
  3. TECHNICAL - are all the camera settings technically correct when you press the shutter button. Knowing what all the buttons, switches and menu settings do on your camera and when best to implement them will go a long way to ensuring your composition stands out. Exposure and color balance must be accurate, dynamic range should not be compromised and your subject should be in sharp focus if that is your intent.
  4. SUBJECT PLACEMENT - where you place your subject will go a long way to strengthening your composition. Probably the best know rule here is the Rule of Thirds, which dictates your subject placement along the lines drawn if you where to divide your frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically. And where these lines intersect are your strongest areas of subject placement. Also look for framing or leading lines that draw your viewer into the frame or patterns, rhythm, or symmetry should you not have an isolatible subject. Avoid placing your subject in the dead center as this is almost always the worst possible place for it in most cases. In the case of scenic landscapes I also like to see some depth introduced by having a distinct foreground, middle-ground and background around the subject as an attempt to create a more three dimensional capture by juxtaposing the near to far relationship.
  5. LIGHTING - type of light and direction of light. The best light brings out the texture and detail in our images. It is often found in the golden hour that 30 minutes before and after sunrise or sunset. What makes this light so good? When the light source is low on the horizon it can give your image depth and dimension and we come closest to conveying three-dimensionality in our two-dimensional image. Also since the light hitting our subject is now further away it becomes softer as it must now pass thought more atmospheric dust and is filtered down to mostly longer wave lengths at the red (or golden) end of the visible spectrum. This reduces the dynamic range of the light and allows a camera to capture the entire range of light in a single frame. Direction of the light is also a key component to how your subject stands out or not. Front, side or back lighting all have a place in how best to illuminate your subject. Physically move yourself into several positions to determine which angle works best for your particular subject.
  6. STYLE - a photographer's individual way of capturing an image. Most photographers do not know what their style is or how to create a style. Ask others who have seen a large body of your work to articulate what they think may be your style. The more people you ask the quicker you will get confirmation and be able to hone in on accentuating this quality that makes your compositions unique. You can now pay close attention to this attribute/s when composing future captures. What would you say is my style?
That concludes this installment for now, be sure to check back in a few week for the final six Element of Composition. I hope you found this information useful and I encourage you to leave your comments below. Also, should you have suggestions on future discussion topics, please feel free to leave those in the comments as well.

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