“Composition in photography”… Just type these words in Google and you will find hundreds if not thousands of articles and videos on the subject. The Golden ratio and the rule of thirds are probably the most commonly shared and recommended “rules” for all beginners eager to step up their composition game.
We won’t talk about these here because I don’t think I can add anything new to what has already been said on the topic.
Instead, I will give you guys my simple approach to composition, and how you can easily apply it to your own work. As a beginner, you often struggle at taking a decision on what to include or exclude in the frame and where to place your main subject.
When I started I ended up centering everything! Having your subject in the center of your frame is not a bad thing… but it can get really boring if not motivated.
There are so many other options at your disposal to make your shots much more interesting, and I won’t cover them all here. hLet me share with you the ones I believe are easy to understand and use right away.
1/ Leading lines
A true eye trainer! Using leading lines will help the viewer look in a certain direction or at a particular spot in the frame. It also builds tension and adds a little sense of movement and depth. People love being guided, it helps them get into your picture and understand it much faster. This works with your subject centered or not, or even placed on the left or right side of the Frame.
Nicole Muratov – Base sous-marine (Bordeaux – France)
It also gives depth to your shot giving your brain elements to hold on to. Lines help us visualize where the subject is placed in a 33-dimensional world but in a 2-dimensional picture.
Ksenia Abbazova (Madrid – Spain)
Bonetics (London – UK)
One easy way to apply this tip is to use stairs like on this shot of Lyria Van Moer captured at the Institut du monde Arabe in Paris. I like shooting my models from below and that dark atmosphere is often my “go to look”. It gives an epic feel to this photo… something I want to imply in my ballet photography.
2/ Vertical lines
The next thing you might use to help you compose your shots is vertical lines. Instead of having these lines going towards your subject, you can search for vertical lines and ideally, a repetition of them, like a succession of columns for example. In these 2 shots, the parallel vertical lines give an organized picture. As if everything was carefully placed and were all meant to be exactly there. Applied in dance photography it gives you the opportunity to capture simple poses for portraits.
Pauline Perraut (Madrid – Spain)
Fanny George – Pavillon joséphine (Strasbourg – France)
Another simple technique is the use of frames! Easy to understand, I don’t need any fancy drawing, the images speak for themselves:
Kimmy Street (Milano – Italy)
Helena Moon (Paris – France)
A little variation and one of the most fun technique to use in your photography is the “Frame within a frame”. In the example below, see how I cumulated other techniques explained earlier. Vertical lines, Repetitions, frames and… Symmetry!
Bboy Sope Lo ( Strasbourg – France)
When in the field, never forget one thing: have fun! Play, experiment, don’t be afraid of making weird choices and mistakes. That’s how you learn. Symmetry is another useful tool to use. On this photo of athlete Emma El Achkar, the idea was to push the viewer to focus on her. To help us achieve our goal, we concentrated the lighting on her. We then played with the hurdles to isolate her more from the environment by using the frame within a frame approach.
Mixing multiple techniques again, playing with symmetry, lines, and repetition (kids don’t try this at home! ). Nhât Nam Lê thanks again for being crazy enough to follow me on this one.The pose we chose was influenced by all the elements around.
5/ Mix things up!
Examples showed earlier are already illustrating this. Remember rules are meant to be mixed up, and of course broken. But yes, you have to start somewhere and applying these techniques all at once can be overwhelming. So isolate a particular skill and apply it to your work regularly until you feel comfortable with it.
On this particular photo, I wanted symmetry, but also a bit of movement to break the static pose of the performer. That’s why we added the silk work to make the shot more interesting, much more dynamic. Since it is a Wide angle shot (24mm), we also used the silk to fill the frame.
Every time you are out there with your camera try these 5 tips one by one! With time you will slowly no longer need to have obvious lines and frames in your shots all the time. This will become 2nd nature and you will focus more on the story rather than the technical side of your shot.
I always say that my photography is the result of multiple decisions. So there has to be a reason behind everyone I make. Placing randomly my subject in the frame is not an option. What do you want to tell, what do you want people to feel, what is the purpose of the shot? You have to answer these questions before capturing anything.
Am I doing it right all the time? No, not at all… I am still a student, I hope to learn all my life… There is so much out there to learn from and so much beauty to capture… That’s why I love photography!
Tell me the tricks you use for better compositions or even send me pictures on how you applied these 5 tips in your photography.
Rendez-vous next Tuesday for a new video or later this week for another blog post!