Composition Emphasizes Subject and Meaning
Composition is a critical factor underpinning many great images and a major consideration in my own photography practice.
This unconventional image made in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, is really a study in composition. The photo just happens to include houses, fences and sky. What it’s actually about is line, shape, texture and repetition.
Rather than employing composition to enhance the visual appeal of the image, this photo is, primarily, about composition. As a result the composition has become the primary subject of the photograph.
Well, I did say it was an unconventional image.
However, my usual practice is to employ composition to emphasize the primary subject and to more effectively convey meaning in my photos. More than likely that’s how you’ll want to use it as well.
The elements of composition that are worth considering when constructing a photo include the following:
Light Illuminates Subject
The color, quality and direction of light are significant ways by which you can enhance the mood of a photograph.
Imagine the cold, blue light of dawn illuminating the earth.
Compare that with the warm colors we associate with a classic sunrise or sunset and the more neutral color of light present, on the average day, between the post sunrise and pre sunset golden hours.
Photographing Greenland: Light and Color is a short post I wrote which explains some of the factors that influence light and color in your photos.
Given that light and color are often considered the two most important elements in photography, I’m sure you’ll find this post a very worthwhile read.
We Live In A World Of Color
Though I love black and white photography, most of my images remain in color.
We live in a world of color, yet it takes skill to compose images where color actively contributes to the success of the photos you make.
The hue, saturation and brightness of a color, and how one color interacts with the color or colors that surround it are key considerations when working in color.
Have you ever been to Buenos Aires? The neighborhood known as La Boca is a riot of color and an absolute hoot to photograph. This post titled, How To Photograph Colorful La Boca, includes some helpful tips for how to approach color on an urban photo walk.
Line Unites Subjects Within A Photo
The use of line is a fantastic graphic device in photography. You can use lines to emphasize three dimensional space within the bounds of a two dimensional photograph.
Lines are also used to create shapes, whether actual or suggested by the placement of related objects within the frame.
I wrote a post titled The Power Of Lines In Composition which features a fairly abstract image made in the snow on a famous mountain in China.
If you’re keen to discover unique ways to utilise line in your own photos you’ll want to take a look at that post.
Shape Adds Dimension And Body To A Photo
My post How To Use Composition To Make Great Photos features images from a photo walk I undertook in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Shape is the dominant element of composition in these photos and I make use of this short post to discuss how I composed the images around shape.
Power Of Texture In A Black And White Photo
Texture is an important element of composition, but it’s particularly useful when working in black and white.
Color is just such a dominant element that, when you remove it from a photo, you need a least one other element of composition to really dominate your photo.
Texture and contrast are particularly well suited to black and white photos.
The simple photo in the post Finding Beauty In The Banal illustrates just how important texture can be to the success of a black and white photo.
Use Balance To Influence Meaning
The concept of balance is fundamental to photography. Just think about how the placement of the horizon in a landscape photo effects the meaning of the image.
Is it an earth bound photo or a more ethereal and, potentially, spiritual sky based image?
The post Create Order And Balance In Your Photos features an architectural element from a Hindu temple complex on the island of Bali.
The photo around which the post is based is primarily a study in composition where, following the architects original intentions, I’ve used balance to bring a sense of order and cohesion to the photo.
How to Use Scale and Proportion in Photography
I’m really happy with the epic nature of the photos from a post I created based around a trip to spectacular Greenland. These photos do a great job illustrating how to use scale and proportion in your own photography.
The post, titled Scale and Proportion in Photos, is one I’m sure you’ll find both informative and inspirational.
Framing Contains and Reveals
A photograph is a world unto itself and framing allows you to isolate the primary subject or scene from within the larger environment.
It’s important to note that what you exclude from the frame can be as important as what you include.
By determining what to exclude from your composition you’ve determined the borders of that world and, as a result, the stories explored and the messages and meaning evoked within it.
It’s important to recognize that framing is one of the ways by which the photographer seeks to represent a subject or scene in line with their own particular world view.
I recently published a post titled Fill The Frame, Make Better Photos which provides some really useful tips on how to employ framing, in camera, to improve the composition and clarify the intent of your photos.
Focus Defines Subject
The degree of separation between competing focal points or between the primary focal point and its surroundings provides visual separation and helps to direct the viewer to the most important visual element within the image.
The ability to emphasize the primary subject of your photo and, where appropriate, to de-emphasize its surroundings through critical focusing and depth of field are essential techniques in photography.
Depth Of Field Concentrates Attention
Depth Of Field allows you to determine how much of the image, both in front and behind the actual point of focus (e.g., subject), is considered sharp.
Generally speaking you’ll want to employ a shallow DOF for portrait and a large DOF for landscape photography.
I’ve written a very helpful post on this subject titled Depth Of Field: Photography Guide.
Written in a very straightforward manner this post will help you use Depth Of Fields to make more visually interesting and emotionally evocative images.
Use Angle Of View To Enhance Story Telling
The angle of view from which you photograph can greatly influence the look and message you’re trying to communicate.
I’d encourage you to play with the angle of view by moving around your subject and photographing it from either a lower or higher vantage point.
Instead of simply bringing the camera to your eye, bring your eye to where the camera needs to be to make a compelling and visually arresting image.
This post from the Arc de Triomphe illustrates two distinctly different views of the same subject matter. I’m sure you’ll be surprised at just how very different these two photos appear.
Changing Perspective Leads To Unique Images
Likewise, by changing perspective you’ll be amazed at how much more interesting your images will become. All that’s required to change perspective is to implement one or more of the following techniques:
Change the camera to subject distance
Change the subject to background distance
Change the focal length (e.g., zoom in or zoom out) with which you make your photo
Fancy a quick trip to Russia?
My blog post titled How To Monumentalize Your Subject provides some great examples of how to use perspective to create visually arresting images.