When behind a lens, there are a few staple rules I always have in the back of my mind. Whether you are an entry-level photographer, experienced, or just interested in going outside with your iPhone, here are a few suggestions for better photo composition.
1. Follow the Rule of Thirds
If an image is divided by nine equal parts, three sections going across and three sections going down, the rule of thirds says that the subject can be positioned along any of these lines to create a dynamic image. This can be accomplished by off-setting the composition and placing the subject off to favor one side.
2. Maintain Balance
It is important to think of space as interactive. Positive and negative space interact with each other the same way light and dark create a mid-range of color. Depending on the subject, the intention and the story being told, different compositions are appropriate for different matters.
Centering an image can create a sense of tradition, reverence, or humor, depending entirely on the subject itself. Placing a subject diagonally, favoring the side of an image can create large amounts of movement for the eye, even if the subject is still. You can fill the image with information, or intentionally leave details out of the frame in order to create question and mystery. Either way, allowing what’s in the frame to collect itself is essential to finding the right balance in each image.
Some images will be filled with content if the subject itself is busy (i.e. a documentation of an event, etc.). Sometimes, you will want to create a sense of calm and peace, or make the image about something simple. What you capture with the space around the subject will impact the overall feel of the image once it is taken.
3. Optimize Framing and Cropping
Framing and cropping are what I ideally like to be diligent about in-camera. I do crop a healthy amount of images depending on what they are being used for during the editing process. But, I challenge myself as much as possible to get exactly what I’m trying to get in-camera.
Framing is something that can be done both intentionally and spontaneously. If you are outdoors, you can use large items and elements to guide your shot. A quick tip is to use what’s around you to create a frame such as trees, buildings, etc. and place them in different parts of the frame. Allow some to run along the bottom or top of the image; allow large objects to take up a third of your frame, and experiment with different orientations of that idea.
In more controlled environments, where variables are entirely up to you to frame them, I often refer to my subject first, and consider the space around it. My goal is to allow the space to compliment the subject, and not compete with it. If the subject is still, I look at everything around the subject and make decisions about what feels the most balanced, or evokes the correct emotion. Sometimes this means filling a frame with content and allowing it to be busy. Other times, it’s creating an L-shape composition, and leaving ¾ negative space around it to keep the focus on the subject itself.
Cropping is always an option in post-editing, and sometimes it’s necessary depending on what the images are being used for. I love the exercise of framing a shot as quickly as I can, while not compromising the authenticity of the thing I’m trying to shoot.
Remember to experiment and make every rule your own. Sometimes breaking the rules create some of the most beautiful images. Have fun!
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