Photography Composition Ideas

Photography composition is the key that unlocks the mystery of how to take professional photos. Learn how!

Composition is the key that unlocks the mystery of how to take professional photos. The right film, camera and conditions may all come together to make a good photo, but a photographer with an eye for composition can turn that good photo into an award winning one. How? By knowing what to look for and where to place it in the viewfinder. The good news is that anyone can train their eye to compose the perfect photograph just by following a few simple steps.

1. What's the Subject?

The first step in composing a photograph is to decide what the main subject will be. If you are photographing a birthday party, for instance, you could zoom in on the cake, candles and the child blowing them out. This would be your subject. Or, if you want to capture the "party" atmosphere, you would back up and get the other children's reactions in the shot also. The key is to remember that once you add the other children in the shot, the cake and the birthday child will no longer be the center of attention. Since friends are part of the excitement, you may choose the party to be your subject. In that case, the photo that includes everyone may be your best choice. So, step one is to decide what you want the photo to be about.

2. Drawing the Eye to Your Subject

Once you decide what your subject will be, you have to focus attention there. This can be done in several ways. To use the birthday party example again, you can fill the frame with the birthday child. That way there is no doubt what the main subject of the photo is. If, on the other hand, you want to back up and get all the guests in the shot, try to make sure that you snap the photo when all heads are turned toward the birthday boy or girl. Those turned heads will draw the viewer's eye in the direction you want it to travel, putting more emphasis on the guest of honor. This way you catch the party atmosphere in the photo without losing your child in a sea of faces.

There are several other, just as effective, ways to draw the viewers eye into the photo. One is to have your subject in sharp focus, while all other aspects of the photo are blurred. This works wonderfully on portraits, if you make sure that the background is fully blurred and there are no details left to distract from the subject.

Another way is to frame your subject. This could be as simple as taking a photo through the window, where there actually would be a frame for the subject. Or, you can use tree limbs in the foreground when taking a landscape photo and let the scenery peek from behind them. This works wonderfully when you have a fence, or other object, at the bottom of your photograph and then tree limbs reaching out overhead, forming the top of the "frame."

3. Placing Your Subject in the Viewfinder

In composition there is what's known as "the rule of thirds", which simply means placing your subject 1/3 of the way up, down, or to the left or right in the photo. Draw an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid on your viewfinder and place your subject at one of the spots where two of the lines intersect. Your subject will be off center, and has a stronger impact than one that is centered. The most important thing to remember here is to use those other 2/3 wisely. A photo of a running child would be better if you frame it so that he is running into the open side of the photo. If not, he will appear to be about to run into the picture frame, with the open space behind him, and the effect is ruined.



4. Horizontal or Vertical?

Most of us take photographs with the camera held horizontally. After all, this is the way the camera was designed to be held and is the most natural way to hold it. Some photos are perfectly suited for this horizontal format. Most landscapes seem to flow from left to right, and need the wide-open spaces of the horizontal shot. But, when thinking about composing your shot, don't forget the other option you have. Vertical shots are sometimes the perfect choice. One that comes to mind would be a waterfall. This format adds a feeling of height to the photo that you don't feel with the horizontal shot. This would also work well with other tall objects such as buildings, statues and trees.

5. Adding and Subtracting

One last thing to consider when composing your photograph is what to leave in the frame and what to cut out, either by repositioning the camera or by zooming the lens in or out.

When photographing people, there are a few things to remember. First, if you want a close up try to include the head and shoulders, but not much lower. If you want an upper body shot, it is usually best to stop at the waist, with the hands and arms included. If you stop lower, it appears that the subject's legs have been cut off. So, if you want a full body shot, back up and get the subject in the frame from head to toe, with a little surrounding scenery so that the picture doesn't look too crowded.

For all other subjects the most important thing to remember is to remove clutter. Either blur it out in the background, move the camera so that it isn't in the shot, or move the subject to a more pleasing area. Anything that isn't the main subject of your shot, or drawing attention to the main subject, should be removed. With this simple step, most ruined shots could be saved.

And with all these steps combined, the mystery to good photos is no longer a mystery. Composition is the key, and once you train your eye to compose the perfect picture your shots will improve as soon as you develop your next roll of film!

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