Here are some composition lessons learned from my recent photo challenge for getting great images for blog article.
First the basics
1 Read the manual — know your camera, learn what each button does, which the flash is, which the backlight, which is the timer is and how to control the zoom.
2 Set the cameras resolution to take the highest quality photographs at the highest possible resolution. This will make any digital altering/editing you may wish to do later much easier. It also makes cropping for web use easier.
3 Start with your camera in one of the automatic modes. There is plenty of time to explore the manual side later once you have the feel of the camera. I always use automatic mode — I am lazy and not that technical.
4 Take your camera everywhere — you will see the world with another pair of eyes. It is also great practice. One of the joys of digital photography is that you do not have to develop any mistakes you make — just delete them. When I started if I was lucky if one in ten of the photographs were something I considered good — four would be OK and the rest would be rubbish. 5 years on with this camera I am now down to one in five good, three acceptable and one that is rubbish.
5 Get outside into natural light — keep the sun on your back to start with. Start taking point and shoot photographs to get used to the light at different times of day. Look where the shadows fall, look at what buildings and structures softly reflect the light or blind you with their reflections. Watch where your shadow falls!
1 Frame the photograph in your mind’s eye before taking it. Ask yourself what you want to achieve — do you want to focus on one thing amongst many — or do you want a broader picture to convey general atmosphere? The next two pictures are taken from the same place — the portrait shot adds a greater sense of depth and a much greater sense of the height of the cliffs and adds to the dramatic sense of the scene.
2 Take your time if you can. Stop, look around get the feel of where you are. Look for interesting details — move the telephone wires or stop signs out of shot. This is the first shot I took of the modern windmill yesterday I moved over the road to get the shot I eventually used to get the wires out-of-the-way.
3 There is something called the rule of thirds, which says you should never have your horizon in the middle of your shot. You should work to have two-thirds land one-third sky/sea or the other way around depending on what is more interesting. A sunset for instance will usually work better with one-third sea or land and two-thirds sky. Try to give depth to a photograph by including details that will frame and give context — a silhouette against a sunset gives depth and contrast.
4 Once you have mastered rule 2 and it has become second nature — throw the rulebook away. You have learned to compose and frame your shots — now you can play with the ideas in your head. If you are using portrait mode to photograph landscapes you need to alter your horizon — your horizon is now top to bottom — or bottom to top — i.e. down the centre of the photograph. You need to take your picture so it unfolds from the bottom upwards — not left to right. You need to have a feature in your photograph that draws you in and up, rather than sweep around. This can be a gap between buildings, such as narrow streets or a road in landscapes or the seashore that your eye can follow.
5 Try positioning your shot slightly off centre — try one way first then the other — see how that changes the balance and overall composition. Use the diagonals of your shot to help you with this, having an element of your shot somewhere along the diagonal will add more dimension and balance.
6 Play with angles, balance and perspectives — move in closer — or move out — try the zoom — when working with landscapes in portrait format this really helps. Looking up or down so the photograph follows the lines of a street or a valley adds more perspective and focus than a straight shot. Looking down makes them look deeper and longer, crouching down and looking up can make buildings or trees seem taller.
Last but not least, never, never forget to have fun — photography is about capturing a moment — a memory, never forget to savour that moment whilst saving it for posterity.