Improve Your Photography Composition by Studying Art Books

When discovering the basics of photography, your first instinct might not be to turn to classical painting. Instead, many of us turn to technical blogs and research top of the line editing gear. However, as art educator Tavis Leaf Glover demonstrates, the artists of old may have more to offer contemporary photographers than initially meets the eye:

The fact of the matter is, being successful as a photographer comes from a balance between technical know-how and artistic vision. Understanding the physical tools and mechanics that make a photograph can be as easy as opening a manual or practicing techniques demonstrated in a video tutorial. Creative properties concerning color, form, and composition, however, are a bit less tangible.

Luckily, Glover has devised a way to highlight compositional elements found in classical painting in a way that makes sense to students that may not have a natural proclivity to the more artistic elements of photography. By simply taping a piece of tracing paper over a book filled with artwork sourced from the Louvre, he uses a pencil to illustrate dominant lines and complimentary shapes created by movement and contrast within the image. To the untrained eye, these traits are often hard to recognize. However, when reduced to the simplest elements, they help to explain why an image is appealing to the human eye.

tracing fine art compositions

Use tracing paper to find patterns in composition.

If you’re having trouble getting your images just right (regardless of your camera settings and equipment arsenal), this simple technique might be for you. Just as lighting, gear, and post processing can work together to make even the most difficult photographic scenarios viable, an understanding of composition can make all of the difference in attracting viewers regardless of subject matter.

“The more you do this, the more you can incorporate it into your art.”

For further training: The Understanding Composition eBook at 75% Off

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