(it’s not just for music, it’s for images too!)
In my last article, I talked about cameras/phone cameras and I mentioned that it’s more important to get your composition right than to worry about what camera you use. This time I’m going to go through some ways that you can work on your image composition to make it more pleasing to the viewer. By composition, what I mean is how the elements of a photograph are arranged within the image. Some of the compositional elements we will look at here are; the rule of thirds, leading lines, verticals, horizontals & perspective and cropping to present a creatively composed photograph regardless of whether you use an SLR or phone camera. In general, if you have an eye for an image, like any artist, you just go with it, but there are some general rules that can help anyone, beginner or advanced, create a pleasing, successful shot. I should also say, these “rules” are more like guidelines and there are always exceptions that can still work well. So let’s get into some of the basics of composition.
The rule of thirds
In photography, the rule of thirds is one of the most important composition guidelines for framing your images. If you can keep it in mind, it can really help make a successful photograph. One of the things many of us tend to do when snapping away is to put the subject matter right in the middle of the frame. With a strong subject, that can sometimes work, but the image can become more aesthetically pleasing if we consider the rule of thirds. Think about it in this way; imagine the frame of your shot divided into 3 parts both vertically and horizontally, like this in diagram 1.
Where these lines intersect are where it would be best to place your subject, leaving some space to balance the shot. If for example, you are shooting a portrait, (either people or animals); the most important part of any portrait is the eyes. So you would focus on the subject’s eyes and place them on or near the top third line (the grid works vertically as well as horizontally). If you are taking a landscape shot, then rather than placing the horizon dead centre, try placing it either on the lower third line bringing the sky/sunset/clouds, mountains, etc. into prominence, or place the horizon on the top third, thus bringing more focus to the foreground, such as a field of flowers or buildings or whatever you want as the main subject. If you want to shoot still life, this simple rule can also help to create a more pleasing composition and help with layout of whatever you are shooting. You can see some examples in the attached images.
When we read, we generally read from left to right. (I know, in some languages, it’s the other way round, but for our purposes we will assume left to right). So our eyes are trained to view images in the same way. Leading lines in an image will draw your viewer’s eyes through the image and will help tell the story you want them to see and can be a very powerful compositional tool. Strong lines, diagonal or horizontal, straight or curved, can help to make a stronger composition, as long as they take the viewer to what you want them to see. Examples could be; a fence or hedgerow in a landscape, a railing or railway tracks, or even lines/edges of a building or architectural detail, all can be used as a leading line. Diagonal lines can work especially well, when used in the right way. Of course, you can combine these with the rule of thirds or other guidelines too when composing your shot. This may all sound a bit complex, but once you practice, you will find yourself automatically picturing lines and thirds in your head as you frame your image. Again, I’ve included a few examples of my own that include leading lines so you see what I mean.
Verticals, horizontals & perspective
This is a sort of pet hate of mine. I believe it’s really important for a successful image, to have a straight horizon, and if possible, straight verticals in an image too, unless you are using the converging verticals of a building to add a dynamic effect. It’s one of the things that many beginners don’t always think about, but just straightening the horizon can really improve your shot. Many camera or phone screens allow you to add a grid to help you line up your shot. It can be really helpful in keeping the horizon and vertical lines level and straight (as well as a guide for your thirds). Also vertical lines like the edges of buildings or fence posts, trees etc should be kept straight where possible. It’s not so easy with a wide angle view but where you can, try to keep at least your horizon straight. There are some very good editing tools to help with this, but I’ll leave this for another article.
Now this may seem simple, but just by cropping your image you can really improve it. What you choose to exclude, is almost as important as what you include. Don’t just accept the aspect ratio from your camera, consider cropping to give a different perspective or remove elements you don’t want. Consider square or even panoramic formats, which can add a different dimension to your images.
In conclusion then, we have discussed a few of the basic guidelines for composition, and I believe, if you follow some or all of these, you will quickly start taking more effective & pleasing images. I hope you have found it helpful. Next time, we will look more into lighting & editing to take your images to the next level.