Composition of a Photograph

Composition of a photograph requires that you arrange the elements within the frame in a pleasing way. There are no rules for capturing an image, just many guidelines that can help you to see creatively and to capture interesting and memorable photographs. Here are the most important guidelines for composing a photograph:
Select a Subject
Determine what you want to photograph. There are many genres, including:
• Still life-Capturing objects that are stationary, such as food, fruit, vegetables, flower, bench in the park, anything that doesn’t move.
• Portrait-Studio portrait of person or group or informal or environmental portraits.
• Landscape-Sea, river, forest, woods, mountain, beach.
• Architecture-Interiors and exteriors of buildings
• Street photography-Capturing the ordinary and everyday life on the street in a way that is extraordinary, the urban jungle or city landscape of streets, buildings, monuments, public art, such as sculpture, graffiti.
• Nature and animals-The pond, river, lake, wild flowers, meadow, woods, birds, wild animals, such as beaver, bear, moose.
• Travel-Capturing images of your trip or vacation.
• Fine Art photography-Often associated with abstracting reality. Reflection. Light trails and light play. Rain drop. Shadows, and more.

Each type of genre has its own guidelines. For instance, if you are going to capture still life in a studio, you’d want a plain backdrop such as white or black, and you’d want dramatic lighting to create a mood, and you want to place the elements into a pleasing arrangement. You also want to have a point of interest. For more information of composition for each genre, read photography books on each particular subject.

Previsualize the photography. In other words, imagine what you want to shoot and how you want to capture the image. As well, determine what your point of focus or center of interest going to be.
Setup of Camera
Setup your camera to capture images in “RAW”, which will allow you to edit the image file in the digital darkroom. A “raw file” is like a film negative. It requires editing and enhancing and printing just like the negative from a film camera.

Then, select a lens. Use a wide-angle to expand the angle of view. It captures a wider-angle of-view than the eye can see. Use the macro lens for close-ups. It allows you to capture the unseen world, such as insects or flower pedals. Use a zoom to magnify an image that is far away, such as a tall building, bird in the sky, sailboat floating on the lake. Then select focal length on the lens. You can magnify the image or expand the angle of view with the focal length. To bring an object closer without moving from your viewpoint, you’ll use a longer focal length on the lens, which also reduces the angle of view. To move an object further away without changing your viewpoint, you’ll use a shorter focal length on the lens, which also increases the angle of view.

Next, choose a focal point or point of interest. Use the rule of thirds to help you select a point of interest.

Then, determine the type of focus you want to use: manual, full-focus, selective focus. Select the exposure. Determine the depth of field: Shallow or deep-depth of field. Most of the time, use aperture priority. However, if you desire to capture “motion blur”, such as a meandering river, use a slow shutter speed, such as 1/30sec. If you want to “freeze motion”, such as a horse galloping across a field, select a fast shutter speed, such as 1/1000 sec.
Creative Controls
The big advantage of using a digital SLR is taking into out of “automatic mode”, so you can use the creative controls. The digital camera has three main creative controls that you can use to capture amazing images:
• Shutter speed-Allows you to capture motion with a fast shutter speed, such as 1/1000 sec or to blur motion with shutter speed, such as 1/30 sec.
• Len’s aperture. A wide-aperture, such as f/4, creates a shallow depth of field, and so the background is blurry. A deep depth of field, such as F/22, creates a deep depth of field, making everything in the background focused and sharp.
• Focal length of the lens. To bring an object closer without moving from your viewpoint, you’ll use a longer focal length on the lens, which also reduces the angle of view. To move an object further away without changing your viewpoint, you’ll use a shorter focal length on the lens, which also increases the angle of view.

Principles of Art
Use the principles of art to help you see creatively and to create interesting and compelling photographs. These principles of art include:
• Line-Vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved.
• Shape-Circle, square, rectangle, triangle.
• Form-Three dimensional.
• Texture-Soft, rough, hard, sharp, jagged surface. Light can often illuminate the texture of a surface.
• Pattern-Repetition of shape or form or lines. Example: Building with windows. Pedals of a flower. Ridges on a tire wheel.
• Colour-It captures the viewer’s attention. Each colour expresses an emotion. Use the colour wheel. Warm colours are yellow, orange, red, while cool colours are blue, green violet.

Elements of Design
Use the principles of design to help you see creatively and to create interesting photographs. These include:
• Contrast- large or small, different textures, different patterns, different colours, contrast of light and dark tones.
• Balance-The elements on the right and left side provide equal weighting, and so create a balanced picture. There is a sense of harmony.
• Symmetry-Closely associated with balance is symmetry. It means the left and right side of an image mirror each other. Example: If you were to capture an image with the photograph on a wall, and then cropped the photograph so that the picture was equal distance from the edge, you’d have created a symmetrical image
• Unity-All of the objects or elements in the picture relate to each other, creating a unified whole.
• Proximity. Placing elements close together or capturing images that are close together gives them a sense of relatedness.
• Movement-the viewer’s eye is directed through the photograph with line, shape, colour.

How do you use these principles of art? Include them in the digital images you capture. For instance, If you take a photograph of the side of a tall building, you capture a rectangle of the building, and smaller rectangles and other shapes of the window. You also capture the texture of the brick or concrete, and the colour of the building’s features.

You require a light source to take a photograph. Different light sources have different colour temperature. Different types of light can also add emotion, mood, and drama to an image. Often photographers create high contrast or low contrast images with light. You must consider five factors for lighting:
• Quality of the light. Hard light from the sun, creates a high key image, with bold colours and high contrast. It also is dynamic and dramatic. Soft light, such as a cloudy day, creates a low key image with soft colours and a contemplative mood.
• Colour of light. All light sources have a different colour: tungsten, florescent, daylight, candle, cloudy day, sunset. The best time to capture colour is just at sunrise and sunset
• Direction of light-Front light creates flat light with few highlights or shadows. Side light creates dramatic light with shadows and highlights. Back light creates a silhouette.
• Reflections. How does the light reflect? Some light doesn’t reflect at all.
• Shadows. Shadows can add drama to a photograph, such as capturing shadows of people walking on the street late in the day or a portrait in the studio with side light can create a dramatic image.

For more information on lighting, read ” Lighting” by Chris Bucher.

Colour or Black and White
Use colour to evoke emotion in the viewer or attract their attention. Warm colours include red, orange, yellow, while cool colours are blue, green, violet.

Use black and white to force the viewer to see line, shape, form, pattern, texture. Black and white is often used for fine art photography, as it abstracts the image. As well, black and white provides you with the option of creating a “split-tone,” infrared, high contrast (high key) , or low-contrast (low key) image.

Always shoot in Camera RAW and colour, then edit and convert the image to black and white in the digital darkroom with Lightroom or PhotoShop.

Perspective/Point of View
Shoot from different points of view, such as birds-eye view, ground-level view, eye-level, from the left and right side, from above, from below. Often you can avoid taking a cliched photograph by changing your perspective or point of view.

Other Guidelines
Here are a few other ways to capture compelling, interesting, unique images:
Use a leading line, such as a river, road, fence, to lead the eye through the photograph.

Avoid placing the horizon line in the middle of the photograph. To emphasize the sky, include more of the sky in your image, which lowers the horizon line. To emphasize the ground, include more of the image of the ground in your photograph, which moves the horizon line up.

Frame your image within another frame. This frame in a scene is like a picture frame. It frames the image. The technique is called a “frame within a frame.” How do you do this? Take a photograph of a person in the frame of a door or window or archway. Take a photograph with something in the foreground that frames the point of interest in the background.

Look for pictures within pictures. Often we can find revealing photographs by looking at the parts of a larger whole. For instance, if you want take a picture of a building, you could take a shot of the window, the door, the walls, the lighting, the accessories that decorate the building, the reflections, the patterns created from the brick or steel, in addition to capturing the entire building.

Layer your image. Include something in the foreground, mid-ground, and background. Use this guideline when shooting images of the street photography or landscape, whether urban or not.

Consider both positive and negative space. Positive space includes one or more objects or elements, such as a chair. Negative space is empty, and so it includes “nothing.” Lots of negative space can be used to add emphasis to the point of interest in the photograph.

For more information on composition of a photograph, read the following books:
• Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson
• Composition: From Snapshot to Great Shots by Laurie Excell.