Whether you want to take better pictures of your family and friends, shoot landscapes, or any other photographic endeavor, the most important aspect of photography to tackle first is composition.
Composition is simply how things are arranged. For photography, this means how the objects in your pictures relate to each other. Good composition means the difference between an everyday snapshot, and a beautiful work of art. The good news is that anyone can learn some basic rules to help them with their photographic composition.
Some scenes are easier to manipulate; for example, taking a photograph of a park bench lends itself to a lot more creativity than taking a group portrait within a confined space. However, almost every picture can benefit by following the following three rules of thumb:
Take A Step Forward
This is as simple as it sounds; look at your photograph though the viewfinder or LCD screen as you would normally, then take one large step forward. Chances are you’ll find that extraneous details around your subject have been eliminated. For example, if you are taking a picture of some friends, you don’t need a lot of grass in the foreground and a bunch of sky up above. Getting closer helps for a tighter composition.
This also has the benefit of leaving your subject placed more prominently within the picture. Removing unimportant details means there are less places for your eyes to rest while looking at the photograph, so they will be drawn to your subject.
Consider the Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is an old photography secret that everyone can employ; it’s easy and goes a long way towards creating a strong composition.
Imagine a tic-tac-toe board is place over the photograph you want to take. Because tic-tac-toe boards are generally drawn as perfectly square and photographs are usually rectangular, you’ll have to make one minor adjustment: if you’re shooting vertically, this means it will be a tall tic-tac-to board, and if you’re shooting horizontally, it will be wider.
The rule of thirds simply means that these four lines, and the four intersections, are important visually. For a landscape photograph, the horizon line is often placed at the bottom horizontal like, with other important elements centered on the vertical lines. In the image here, the baby’s hand is within the top one third of the photograph, and the place where it rests on the adult hand where the top line of the tic-tac-toe board would be. The bottom left square of the board would be black.
The rule of thirds doesn’t need to be followed exactly; it’s simply a guideline to help create a stronger composition.
Look at the Edges of Your Shot
Once you’ve taken a step forward, and rearranged your composition with the rule of thirds in mind, the last thing to do is to carefully consider the very perimeter of your photograph. Are there any little stray, distracting details that are making their way into your picture? A hint of a tree branch? The edge of a building? An item on the ground?
Details such as these are easy to miss when taking a picture, but are very obvious once a print is made. Making sure the edges of your shot are distraction-free automatically increases the quality of the composition.
Incorporating these three basic composition principles into your picture taking will help to create stronger, more dynamic photographs.