Perfecting your Composition

I've started teaching photography to some people I know and so typed out some notes for them where I put down some basic rules of composition ….Some of these I've learnt, some I read about or been told about over the past few years..sharing them here in the hope that they help make your photos better.

I've noticed I've shot a lot of photos which I look at and think – nice pic…would have been a great pic but something is missing. This “missing” bit very often is a compositional error which results in the image looking good…but not great.

I'm the sort of person who’s interested in results rather than getting into technical discussions so I'm not going to get into things like “why do photos which adhere to these rules look better than photos that don’t”.

Trust me, in most cases, photos which follow these rules will look better than ones which don’t.

There always is an exception to the rule, however the rules will hold true for most of the photos you would usually take.

There also are some rules on how to break the rules – will cover these in the next session.

1) Keep the horizon off-centre. Decide if you want more foreground or more of the Sky. Choose any one – don’t divide the photo into 2 equal halves.

2) Keep the subject off centre – it doesn't matter if your subject is human, a rock in a landscape or a tree or a bird – keep it off centre. Don’t put it in the middle of the photo.

3) Learn the rule of the thirds. If you grew up before those times when every kid has a laptop you would have played a game called knots and crosses. Image those lines being drawn on your photograph or the photograph you plan to take. Look carefully at the place where those horizontal and vertical lines intersect each other. Those 4 places is where your subject should ideally be located.

4) If your subject is a human face then put one eye where those grid lines mentioned above will intersect

5) Get the subject to “look” into the photograph. It could be a human or an animal (there hardly is any difference in some cases but I digress). Example – if you place the subject off centre, you need to chose a side – either left of right. The rule is that if your subject is looking towards the right then place the subject off centre towards the left. Similarly if your subject is looking towards the left then place the subject towards the right. This will ensure that the subject is looking “into the photograph” and not towards the outside of the photograph.

6) This rule would apply to flowers and birds too…get them to “look” into the photograph.

7) Leading lines – The human eye tends to move along the lines in a photograph. Learn to identify these lines and use them in your photos to enhance the composition. These lines could be formed by roads, objects, etc.

8) Contrasting colours – look for and learn to identify colours which go well with each other and use them to enhance your composition. These colours could be the clothes your subject is wearing vs the colour of the background, the colours of a window in the house vs the colours of the walls, colour of a boat in the foreground vs the colour of the water etc etc. If you realize that the colours don’t go well with each other then don’t take the photo – Or maybe check if the photo will work as a monochrome image (provided you can see the tones/ shades) but don’t shoot it and process it as a colour photograph

The next two are useful if you are shooting a landscape / sea scape.

9) Anchor points – look for anchor points in your image. Find a tree or a rock or car or a house or a human figure etc etc that can be placed in a particular place off centre in the frame.

10) Introduce a human element – Try and place a human element somewhere in your photograph even if it’s a far off landscape. This human element could be walking towards you or walking away from you or maybe sitting or standing in a part of the photograph. Example a photograph of a human walking along the road / path will look better than the photograph of just the road / path. Similarly a photograph of a park with a bench with someone sitting on it will look better than the photo of the park and an empty bench.

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