Beautiful subjects and technical ability are not enough to make a good picture. Photographers must properly compose the photo, too. Composition should be pleasing and harmonious; it should help driving the viewer’s eye through our picture as we desire. Elements to consider for an attractive composition are dominant feature, balance and rhythm.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A composition looking harmonious to a person might look lackluster to another. So feel free to adapt the suggestions in this article to your needs and attitudes. Besides, try your best not to be stuck into rules and commandments, because they might be the loss of your creativity. Remember: photography is the art of seeing, not the skill of following the rules. Seeing things differently might convey different composing, which is good, because original and personal. Experiment with your creativity and inspiration; try breaking purposely the rules. This means that occasionally you will have to throw away a few shots and this is good, too. Indeed, if you have seldom some shots to dismiss, it means you are not experimenting enough. Having said that, let us list a few concepts we should refine our sensitivity for.
It should be self-evident that before shooting we should know exactly what our main subject is. We must do our best to convey the viewer’s attention to it, without distracting elements. This does not mean that we must exclude everything except the dominant feature in our image. In fact, we have three options:
2) Intimate landscape. Show the main subject together with its neighborhoods to give it a spatial placing. This can be useful to make it easier to recognize the subject or to say something more about it.
3) Grand scenic. Show the subject immersed in its entire surrounding. This can be done if the surrounding is meaningful to the feelings you want to convey.
In any case, the viewer’s attention must be attracted to the main subject first, and only then he can wander around the rest of the picture. If the viewer’s eye does not go directly to the main subject as soon as he looks at the picture, the photographer has failed his mission.
Here are a few useful tips in order to emphasize the dominant feature. Put your main subject in the foreground so that it appears bigger. Typically, this requires a large depth of field. Another popular method is using converging lines toward the subject to direct the viewer’s eye where we want to. Putting the dominant feature against a contrasting colored background is effective, too. For instance, the main subject could be a splash of color against a complementary colored backdrop. Finally, a shape with a textureless background will serve the purpose of making the main subject figuring prominently. An example of this might be a flower in the desert sand.
In a photograph, more than one object or person is usually present. Each item in an image must be properly balanced. A balanced composition is pleasing to the eye because inspiring a sense of stability. Each item has a weight or visual importance that depends on the level of attraction for the viewer’s eye.
Balance can be symmetric or asymmetric. In asymmetric balance, a small object is balanced by another bigger having more or less the same visual importance. For instance, this is the case when a small highly colored or contrasted object is related to a bigger but plain or textureless item.
Rhythm relates to time and it implies adding the time dimension to photographs. As we saw, the viewer should be first attracted to the main subject, but then there are other (well-balanced) items in the picture he should look at. The photographer should be able to take the viewer in a journey, to involve him in the image. The journey begins with the main subject, and then the viewer should be led to the rest of the picture smoothly and with participation, along items of secondary importance. Think about this imaginary journey and try to compose it in your picture so that the viewer will be delighted to follow you and to go all over the path of your vision.
Andrea Ghilardelli runs a photo retouching and restoration service at ilghila.com.
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