Some thoughts on composition....

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rip18

Senior Member
When we say “well composed”, “I like your composition”, etc. what might we mean?

We generally mean that the image is “pleasing to the eye” or well-balanced. Certain geometric arrangements are more artistically pleasing to most folks. Some of the main components to composition include: orientation, subject location(s), edges, and other stuff.

ORIENTATION
The first decision is whether to shoot the subject in a horizontal or vertical format (assuming you are using a “normal” SLR or DSLR). Choose the one that best fits your subject. Tall/thin images usually are best suited for vertical compositions (portrait orientation in your printer), and wider images are best suited for horizontal compositions (landscape in your printer). Too often, we forget that we can turn the camera on its side and still have it work.

SUBJECT LOCATION
Where to put the main subject impacts the composition an awful lot. Most folks put the main subject right in the center of the frame (mostly because that is where the “main” focusing point has been located). A better choice might be to apply the
“Rule of Thirds”, “golden ratio”, or “golden mean.” http://photoinf.com/General/KODAK/guidelines_for_better_photographic_composition_rule_of_thirds.html

Take an image & draw a tic-tac-toe board on it. The strongest points are the 4 intersections of the lines, not the center. The strongest planes are where the lines are. Similarly, if there is a way to connect 2 or more of those points or put multiple important objects on those lines or at those intersections, the image is usually “stronger”. You don't necessarily have to be "exactly" on the 1/3 lines or at the intersections, but the closer you can get, the stronger the image usually is...

This works for animals, flowers, landscapes, etc. For smaller animals (animals in habitat, birds in flight, etc.) you usually want them at the intersection of the lines. For larger animals, you usually want their eyes at an intersection. You usually also want to give animals room to move “into” the frame or “look” into the frame. Sometimes a wake from a swimming duck will balance an image so that the duck looks okay swimming out of a frame, or sometimes the tension caused by an alert deer looking out of the image “works” better.

For landscapes, the horizon line is usually located along one of the horizontal lines with the most important part of the image (whether it is a pretty sky, a rough sea, or a flowery meadow) getting the 2/3 and the less important part of the image getting the smaller 1/3. A mountain, tree, foreground seashell, or similar item of interest is often located somewhere along the vertical 1/3 line.

(NOTE: On many camera systems, you will have to focus on the subject and then lock the focus, using a focus lock button./switch or other method, and then recompose the image. Some of the professional bodies have finally put focus sensors at the 1/3’s grid intersections, but it still isn’t the norm on consumer bodies…)

If you can have something connect one or more of the points of interest at the thirds, it often strengthens the image. Things that may connect points of interest are diagonal lines (logs, creeks, water edges), S-curves (roads, creeks, trails, patterns of flowers). These are sometimes call leading lines because they lead your eye through the image to the places you want them to go…

EDGES
Paying attention to the edges of the image is important too. You basically have two choices: cut stuff off or don’t cut stuff off… Sometimes you can intentionally cut stuff off, like an overhanging tree branch to help form a “frame” for the main subject. Shooting through doors, windows, grass, brush, to form a frame can be effective. Using clouds, tree trunks, etc. on the edges of an image can be effective as well. Unintentionally cutting off part of something in an image (such as one or more ducks in a flight shot of a flock, or a deer’s tail, or a critter’s feet) often results in a weaker image.
Sometimes clipping works to improve an image, and other times we really want to see the whole thing…

OTHER STUFF
If it doesn’t add to the image – it doesn’t need to be there because it detracts from the image. For a documentary shot, having “habitat” in the shot is important, but for an “art” shot, if it doesn’t add to the image, it detracts from it. Having a “habitat” shot that is aesthetically/artistically pleasing is (to me) the coup de grace of wildlife photography. It is so hard to find a “clean” habitat and then almost impossible to get a critter to strike a good pose in a good location in good light… Deciding on depth of field, perspective, foreground, background, (the last 3 which can be changed by the photographer moving) can drastically change the way an image looks. Trying to choose a location & aperture/shutter settings that minimize distractions can add a lot to an image. A lot of times simply moving the camera to the right/left or up/down can “move” twigs, rocks, cars, etc. out of the image.

All the “rules” referenced above are really suggestions, and sometimes the strongest images are those that break the “rule.” Note, too, that all these rules go out the window when you start considering putting text on the image (like for the cover a magazine or a Valentine’s day card….).

Go take a look at your favorite images (some of yours, some on-line, some in galleries, wherever), and see how the artist (whether it be a photographer, painter, illustrator, whatever) uses the rules & guidelines I’ve discussed here, and hopefully the additional thoughts & examples other folks here will share.

For illustrative purposes, I have taken a shot of a mallard duck in flight. I’m sharing the original shot with gridline super imposed to show the “rule of thirds”, then a cropped shot showing the duck centered. Then a cropped, up-close shot (note that the duck’s body is almost aligned on the 1/3 line with the eye near an intersection). Then a cropped shot with the duck to the upper left with room to fly into the image (which it would not have as much of if I had cropped vertically). All of these shots “work” to some degree, but some are better for some uses than others.

Thanks for wading through all that... I'm sure we have some examples or other thoughts, so share away.
 

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FERAL ONE

Shutter Mushin' Mod
GREAT TIPS !!!! one of the hardest things for me to do is get past the "snap shot" mentality. often it is in post processing that i have to fix that mistake. my d50 has the multiple focusing areas that i can change quickly ( if i am thinking clearly !!!) i find that i am much more pleased with my work if i remember the rule of thirds , but if the critter or subject is moving, i get what i can get and try to fix it later !!! in my sunstar shot the other day i purposely wanted the star on the side of the image. i really like it better that way .
 

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Thread starter #4

rip18

Senior Member
Looks like you nailed it - F1. The horizon line is along a third & the sunstar is almost at an intersection. Don't you love it when it comes togather?

Aw surely you can add something, DRB1313... at least a disease or something like Golden Third Obsession - the failure of a photographer to mush the button if the main subject is NOT at a golden third intersection...
 

FERAL ONE

Shutter Mushin' Mod
on this one i locked the focus on the puddle because i wanted the ice to be seen. heck i was takin' pics and it was 23 degrees. i wanted something to show for it !!!!! it is a centered pic, but it worked for me that way so i left it alone.
 

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jason308

Senior Member
Great tutorial Rip!!!!! Its amazing what composition can do for a shot......Like F1 said, I still struggle with composing the image "right" when I am out shooting.....But some times even post processing won't fix my mistakes...:banginghe
 

Hoss

Moderator
You did a great job with this topic, Rip. Wish I could add something, but I'm afraid you covered most of my knowledge with the first paragraph.

I have a bad habit of center focusing, but usually handle it the same way Feral does, with some post processing. It's something I keep telling myself to work on, but unless I get out and shoot a lot, bad habits just come back.

I think this one deserves a link in the Photo Tricks of the Trade sticky.

Hoss
 

ronfritz

Senior Member
I, personally, can think of nothing to add but I did bump into an article called the Golden Mean recently that uses slightly different geometry than the rule of thirds. I've always been a rule of thirds guy myself so this article is something I intend to go back and read.

http://www.photozone.de/the-golden-mean
 

Smokey

Senior Member
You mean I gotta be a math whiz too:banginghe
 

leo

Retired Woody's Mod 7/01-12/09
Good subject rip

and a fine write up on this subject:)

I try and consider the rule of thirds, when I remember and when I am not trying to show something that just doesen't seem (to me) to fit under the rule of thirds.

I usually just settle on something that looks right to me and hope everyone else enjoys it too:)

I need to practice (remember), when taking them, considering the rule of thirds and the horizontal/vertical more .... instead of having to do it in PS, but I don't do this enough:biggrin2:
 

DSGB

Senior Member
Thanks for the very informative post! Now if I can just remember to apply what I've learned here when taking pictures. :bounce:
 

jason308

Senior Member
Thanks for the very informative post! Now if I can just remember to apply what I've learned here when taking pictures. :bounce:
That is the hard part for me....I can always see these things AFTER the photos are on my computer....:banginghe
 
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