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Photography Composition Tips

When preparing to shoot a scene, there are three things a photographer must visualize in his mind eye:

  • what do I want to shoot exactly?
  • Is this the correct equipment?
  • Is this the best composition I can have in the moment?

From those three, usually the most difficult is the third - it's all about composing the photo - and there usually are some things to have in mind:

How to make the most of my subject?

In regarding the position of the subject, there is the famous Rule of Thirds, which states that you should keep the subject of the photography off the centre, and instead make it a bit right or left, in the line that divides the photo in thirds both in height and width (resulting in four points of encounter of the lines). This is used to gain depth in the image, making it much more powerful.

Another thing to notice is depth of field, which is the use of variable points of focus, leaving everything in focus or making a blurred background and/or foreground. This is to isolate the subject and make it stand in the photo.

Also, as a rule, get in close. Yes, just that. Take a picture and take tree steps towards the subject, recompose and shoot again. This helps with some very important things when preparing a shoot: simplifying the scene (to make the subject more in the centre of the message the photo conveys) and to look at the subject with an unusual perspective.

Is the environment too cluttered?

When looking through the viewfinder, it's very common to centre our attention on the subject and forget to look on the sides of the frame to see if there's a branch invading the photo or electric cables, or someone in a compromising position, taking the attention away from the subject of the photography.

Another thing we often forget is to simplify the scene. Always keep in mind: how can I change my position in regard to the subject in order to get the simplest background possible? This helps to enhance the subject and stops the eye from the observer of the photo from wandering off without objective - making it a better, more powerful photography.

Are there patterns, symmetry or leading lines that could enhance my subject?

Look actively for patterns, groupings, and symmetry that could help you tell the story of the photo you want to take. This is not often the case, but symmetry and patterns, usually give the sense of movement - another resource for enhancing the relation of the observer with the photo subject.

Leading lines are those lines (can be rocks, a street, a stair, the horizon… really any lines on the composed image) that take attention to the subject by making the eye walk through the line towards the subject, making it a really great tool for emphasis.

Finally, watch out for some really ugly mistakes:

  • Don't cut someone's limbs on the articulations (knees, or elbows). It makes the person fell there's something missing.
  • Don't compose with the horizon cutting through the neck of a person or animal. It's creepy.
  • Try not to overexpose the sky - it will make you miss the subject (unless this is how you artistically planned the photo).
  • Watch for cluttered backgrounds. Simplify (this is really repetitive, right?).

And, most important of all: before the next shoot, breathe slowly and see the whole viewfinder. This alone will probably make your photography a lot better.


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