One of the first things that come to me, when it comes to photography, is composition.
I have studied arts since I was 12 and all I knew back then is that art was meant to be beautiful, composition is meant to look nice to the one that looks at and colors needed to express deeper feelings that lines did. I have soon found out that in a world of freedom, the planet of ideas, free expression or the universe of arts do have rules. Now don’t go nuts, rules here don’t mean that they can’t be broken; I like to call them composition rules. This is not like in real life. One can easily break them and sometimes the outcome is absolutely amazing!
First of all, we have to define what is meant by ’composition’: it refers to the way the various elements in a scene are arranged within the frame. As I’ve already mentioned, these are not hard and fast rules but I like to call them guidelines.
That said, many of them have been used in art for thousands of years and they really do help achieve more attractive compositions. I find that I usually have one or more of these guidelines in the back of my mind as I’m setting up a shot.
Next, I will explain and show you some of probably the most well-known composition techniques:
1. The Rule of Thirds
Imagine your image divided into 9 equal segments by 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines. The rule of thirds says that you should position the most important elements in your composition along the lines or at the points where they intersect. Doing so will add balance, interest and order to your photo. Nowadays cameras, even on mobiles, have the grid over your screen, making your job easier and your results better ones. Let me show you some examples:
2. Centered and symmetry
Ok, this is basically contradicting a bit the first rule mentioned above 🙂
Well, there are times when placing a subject in the center really gives great results. One can combine both and have a very balanced composition to show like ilustrated below. Please see the blocks, the tree or the symetric distance selected on both sides of the bench or the drilling rig:
3. Leading Lines
When looking at a composition, your brain is drawing out lines, involuntarily. It a natural way our eyes can concept a frame. By using this technique, or rule, you can affect the way one can view your work of art. Lines attack the view, the eyes towards something; you can create the lines as you wish, straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag, radial, etc. and you can also drag the attention to a subject, towards and object, person, message and many more. This is one of my favorite ‘rules‘ that I like to combine in my portrait photo shoots. Just let your imagination free and see beyond your camera:
4. Frame in frame
Another technique of framing your composition is so called a ‘frame withing the frame’. This will give an effective way of portraying depth in a scene or sometimes, creating another composition within one, managing to put more equilibrium into the eyes that looks.
Learn to search for elements such as windows, arches or overhanging branches to frame the scene with. The ‘frame’ does not necessarily have to surround the entire scene to be effective.
5. Textures and patterns
Branches, trees, flowers, cobblestones, curtains, fishnets, clouds, waves – all could be a source for patters and texture to introduce in your composition. There is no rule here but you can always combine the one ’of thirds’ like I did in the portrait below with the nice texture of pine tree leaves.
Human eyes are attracted by patters and textures so why now get them even closer to your subject. Some examples are me trying to lead the view towards the cathedral bellow, introducing a pattern of cobblestones that attract you to start with and then lead the way to a centered neo-gothic church of Saint Ludmila, located in Náměstí Míru of Prague 2 or combining the frame in frame technique with a lovely texture of the trees on Petřín hill setting Prague`s castle in a natural night canvas.
6. Wide view/Negative Space
Going to more of a trend than a rule, this way of building your frame is all about the empty space in it, or in other words called – negative space. Leave some space within to express the unlimited, if I could say so; basically, leave the viewer image the rest of your frame, let him build the rest of your capture world. It could be from the top of the green mountains to the sand level of a white beach, the possibilities are limitless.
7. Simply and/or minimalism
Towards the same trend as explained and exampled above, minimalism is another way of expressing that less is more. Minimalism speaks in simple lines, clear backgrounds, or in other words easy and as minimal to the eyes as possible.
8. Golden ratio
This is easy: two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. Wait, what now? Ok, if that sounds too complicated, perhaps this mathematical formula will help:
I know this sounds complicated but wait for it. Remember the first rule I wrote here, upper? It’s like a slightly more complex version of the rule of thirds. Instead of a regular grid, the frame is divided into a series of squares as in the examples below. This is known as a ‘Phi Grid’. You can compare the grid with what looks like a snail’s shell. This is called a ‘Fibonacci Spiral’. The squares help to position elements in the scene and the spiral gives us an idea of how the scene should flow. It’s a little like an invisible leading line.
Let me write in as short as possible a bit more about this, because I feel sharing more amazing facts about this ratio and why to add it in our frames as well:
Some more than 2400 year ago people had the same aspiration as now and that was to find perfection.
Golden Ratio has inspired thinkers of all disciplines like no other number in the history of mathematics! Biologists, artists, musicians, historians, architects, psychologists and even mystics have pondered and debated the basis of its ubiquity and appeal.The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number
Some very well names that studied and empowered this in their work, just studied it or tried to perfect is were Pythagoras, Euclid, Johannes Kepler, Le Corbusier or Dalí are a phew. You will be even more amazed if you knew how many applications this ratio has, some being architecture, art, books, design, music, mathematics, nature, geometry and it applies even to the Egyptian pyramids or the Parthenon.
Here are two examples:
9. Golden hour
Since we speak here about golden things, let’s speak of a timeframe during each day in which most of the photographers, videographers love so much.
In photography, the golden hour is the period of daytime shortly after sunrise or before sunset, during which daylight is redder and softer than when the Sun is higher in the sky.The period of time right before sunrise and shortly after sunset is called the ’magic hour’, especially by cinematographers. During this time the brightness of the sky matches the brightness of streetlights, signs, car headlights and lit windows. Also, during this period of time there are no sharp shadows because the sun has set (or hasn’t risen). The magic hour is actually closer to twenty or thirty minutes.
I often chose this time of day for my subjects first if possible also because of the softer light for their eyes, for thermic comfort as well as in summer gets really hot in Prague and also for the lovely color mist the city has, the vibes of everything around it gives my clients a positive energy and enhances the end result so much; therefore, get up early or wait for the right time. As a tip, you can search in the App store for so many sunrises to sunsets times in order to set yourself a reminder; you can use this one or just Google search it – I found it very accurate.
Again, more of my work, as an example:
10. Set your focus
Focusing on a person, wall, tree or a moving subject can not only bring the viewer’s attention but also point out perspective as one that looks can say she/he feels within your frame lines. I would advise to use a wide lens here and go as low as you can with your f point; I am sure you will master this from the start!
With all of this said I wish you shutter lovers lots of great frames, lots of inspiration and see you soon, in another blog post. Till then, shoot shoot shoot!
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