Composition in photography is the art of arranging your photographic subjects within the camera’s frame in a way that is pleasing. Or, indeed, in an unpleasing and disturbing way if that’s your intention. The statement of an image is always subjective, but some general rules of thumb can be useful to remember. Here is a set of basic guidelines
A Harmonious Expression
Following the rule of thirds (“Photography’s Golden Rule”, see other article), you usually get a fairly harmonious relation between the main subject and it’s surroundings. The main subject is placed in a way that attracts attention to it, and there is still a significant space on the side of the subject for the surroundings to stand out and remain an unbroken secondary element of the image. What you get is usually a play of sorts between the two elements.
Curved lines in the image, like soft rolling hills, often adds to the idyllic and harmonious expression while arranging multiple subjects in round shapes can add a sense of unity or solidarity to the photo.
An Antagonistic Expression
Place your main subject in the extreme corner or in the side of the frame and you’ll usually get a different expression. I find it often leaves an antagonistic expression between the subject and it’s surroundings, the two elements playing against each other in a way. If for instance you want to express disconnection, solitude or alienation between a person and his/her surroundings, I find it useful to place the person in one of the extreme lower corners of the frame. The danger is that the viewer will normally not pay so much attention to the corners of the image as to the subjects placed in the center or according to the rule of thirds. So it is useful to keep the ‘surroundings part’ very simple, without too many distracting little details so as to point the viewers attention to your subject.
A Mysterious Expression
Placing the main subject in the center of the frame is another option you have. Many amateurs do this by default and most other tutorials simply advise against it. But it can also work for you if your purpose is to create a sense of confusion, uncertainty or even mystery. Placing the main subjects smack in the middle of the frame is a simple way of going about it, but it can actually be a bit confusing to look at. The background is cut up in two equal halves, leaving our eyes circling around, not knowing where to land.
The effect can be enhanced by cropping the picture to a 1:1 square format. Strong symmetry and radial lines pointing towards the image center can even leave an expression of insanity. If that’s what you are aiming for then by all means, shoot your subjects dead center!
A Calm Expression
An image dominated by strong horizontal lines can leave a sense of stability and calmness, perhaps even heaviness. Think of a flat house or a broad landscape. A clear horizon is often used for this purpose.
Including a big triangular shape with a flat base or arranging multiple subjects this way in the frame usually increases the sense of stability in the image.
A Dynamic Expression
Using diagonal lines and something shaped as an inverted triangle (“standing on it’s tip”), can leave a sense of instability, change, action and conflict. Remember that tilting your camera a little bit can transform horizontal and vertical lines into slightly diagonal lines, giving a bit stronger feel of drama, action and change.
An Expression of Grandeur
Strong vertical lines usually spell things like greatness, ambition and achievement. Think for instance of Gothic church architecture, with their huge gates and pillars striving up towards the sky. Such lines can also be created by having a person in the picture who is looking slightly upwards, perhaps with a distant expression in his/her eyes. There will be invisible lines along the direction he/she is looking in, creating a sense of great hopes, dreams and ambitions.
Cropping for Expression
Finally, it’s not just the elements inside the image that create the expression. It is also the format of the image. There’s an infinite number of variations to the exact format, but basically the image can be either horizontal format (flat), vertical format (tall) or square format. As hinted above, the horizontal format usually leaves a greater sense of stability, the vertical format a more dynamic feeling and the square format perhaps a slightly more chocking, sudden impact feeling.
All these “rules” are of course subjective and not carved in stone. People are different and everyone will have their own feelings when looking at the same image. The subject of the photo and the expression of any person in it, also adds directly to the overall photographic expression. But I do think that there is some sort of universal similarity in the way we all form our feelings from an image. So use these “rules” as nothing more than a guideline. And most importantly try to sense what feelings the different compositions make on you when you compose your next photos!
The author, Morten Svenningsen, is an international photographer in Nepal, Asia Visit his web site www.mortensvenningsen.com to see hundreds of documentary photos, travel photos and portraits. It’s even possible to order a few posters.
Article Source: EzineArticles.com
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