Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Photography Tips - Composition

Many people comment on certain photographers having an eye for taking good pictures. In part, that is skill and experience you are seeing. Another part is the expression of art with an understanding of some basic rules. Of course, like any artist, you can take some great shots that 'break' all the rules, however, it is safe to say that taking into consideration the following six items will help improve the quality of your pictures and create more interesting images.

Keep it simple

Think to yourself, "What am I taking a picture of?" and keep that in mind. Identifying the subject of interest and avoiding distracting backgrounds will help to keep the picture clear. Zoom in to clear out irrelevant parts of the scene and capture just what you're looking for, avoiding objects like signs, buildings or people that take the viewer's eye away from the point of focus. An example of this is taking a picture of crowd of protestors - a busy image where the eye has trouble figuring out what should take its focus. Zooming in on one protestor in particular, though, makes it very clear what should command the viewer's attention.

Rule of thirds

Picture a tic tac toe board: two horizontal lines intersected by two vertical lines. This creates an easy formula - line up the horizon of the shot with either of the two horizontal lines, and line up the subject (either a person, building or the focus of your picture) with either of the vertical lines, ideally where the lines intersect. When viewing a scene, try to overlay this map into the viewfinder - with only a little adjustment, you can quickly create more visually interesting images by simply adjusting (or cropping after the fact) what you see to line up with these invisible markers. When dealing with a moving subject or a person, it's often preferable to have them looking or moving 'into' the picture from one of the two sides.

Lines and shapes

We all remember our geometry classes, dominated by circles, triangles, and snake-like curves. Applying these simple shapes to your subject matter can help to simplify complex scenes and add visual interest. Consider trying to capture an image of a person walking down a long, straight street. Instead of shooting straight down the line, move yourself five or ten feet to the side and shoot that road at an angle - having that line crossing through the intersecting lines of the imaginary tic tac toe board from the rule of thirds can create the illusion of movement as they lead the eye through the picture. S-curves are even more dynamic, while repetitive lines can also create movement of the eye through the picture, like repeating waves of sand on a beach or parallel row houses along the side of a road.

Vantage point

Most images taken by amateur photographers are taken at eye level - this means most of these pictures are taken from the narrow range of 5 to 6 feet in height. Taking a picture from a lower vantage point (for example crouching or even lying on the ground) can add grandeur and significance to the subject, while getting more height (from climbing up a tree, fence or steps) will reduce the significance of the subject in your scene. Examples of using this could be taking a picture of your children playing looking from the ground, or capturing a busy marketplace scene where no one person would stand out over another.


When considering what you're capturing, look through the lens and pick out the dominant subjects, like people, buildings, trees or mountains and arrange them so that they compliment each other. This can mean either symmetrical balancing, where objects of equal size are positioned on either side of the picture's center, like a manicured garden with bushes on either side, or asymmetrical balancing, where objects of different sizes are used on either side of the picture's center, like a scene of a person standing between a house and a tree. Asymmetrical pictures are often more interesting and visually stimulating as the viewer's eye moves from object to object.


Framing, as it sounds, is a way of drawing attention to the subject in the picture by blocking off or framing parts of the scene using natural or artificial barriers, and however accomplished can add prominence to the subject, and will help add a sense of depth to the photo. Using this concept literally, you can try taking an outdoor scene from the inside through an open window to create interest, or capture a newly married couple kissing in a doorway or hallway to draw the eye to them. Other more natural ways of framing a shot are using trees (shooting through gaps in the branches and leaves), or viewing a beach from between craggy rocks.

Dexter Yarbrough
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Photography Tips for Beginners!

These ten beginning photography tips are for those who have bought their first camera and are just setting out - and what a great journey awaits you!

1.Buy a good quality padded bag for your new camera so that it is always protected against bumps and mishaps - a good camera bag is not a luxury item, it's a necessity.

2.Always use the neck-strap to hang the camera around your neck or keep the wrist-strap on your wrist all the time you are taking pictures and even while you are just looking through the viewer. It's not that you might drop it, it's that one day you will drop it and if you are in the habit of always using a strap, it will be protected and your camera will always be safe.

3.Buy the biggest memory card possible, purchase two if you have the cash and set the picture quality to the highest you can. Don't use the RAW setting for the time being though, get used to using the camera on a high TIFF or JPG setting as you can't up the quality after the shot is taken.

4.Most beginning photography tips overlook the importance of reading the camera manual. Only don't try to read the whole manual at once, you will forget most of it. Read the manual a little bit at a time - but do read it!. Whenever I buy a new camera, I spend about half an hour with the manual before going out. I try to find one new technique that sounds like it might be fun to use and then try it out that same day. Next time you go out with your camera, do the same, find one new technique to try out. If you just spend half an hour before you go out with your camera, each and every time, gradually you will get to know your camera very well, and finding the right settings will become intuitive.

5.Don't delete unwanted images on the camera. It's better to wait and look at them on your computer screen which is so much larger but also, as your skills grow, you will learn how to rescue certain images that you may have thought hadn't quite worked.

6.Make sure image stabilization is turned on, if your camera has it. This will help to ensure sharp pictures. You can also help to ensure they are sharp by holding the camera in both hands, with your feet firmly planted and your elbows tucked in close to your body. Some people like to hold their breath briefly just before and at the point of clicking the shutter. Concentrating your mind in this way helps to reduce camera shake.

7.Beginning photography tips wouldn't be complete without mentioning that great portrait shot you took only to find later that there is a tree or telegraph pole coming out of the top of their head. This is a common mistake with beginners so check out the background before you take the shot. Even if the background is thrown out of focus, a defocused pole sticking out of your best friend's head will still not look good!

8.Use the fill flash setting on your camera if you are outdoors on a bright sunny day and find that your subject's face is darkened by shadows. This will brighten their face and make them stand out from the background. You should find guidance on how to do this in the camera manual.

9.Press the shutter release button half way down until you feel resistance. Hold it there to lock the focus and then re-frame your picture while you do so. Then press the shutter release button the rest of the way down to finally make the shot. This will make sure your subject is in sharp focus but also gives you the opportunity to improve the composition by placing your subject off centre, a simple tip which can often bring greater life to your pictures.

10.Find out the exact range of the flash by reading the manual. It is usually only up to about 10 feet. Anything beyond that will be too dark. Ten-feet are about four paces so it's fairly easy to estimate.

Thanks to Anne Darling Photography for providing some of the information.

Dexter Yarbrough