• Andrei Tanase

Looking for Photo Compositions

Updated: Jun 11, 2021


What we decide to include in a photo and how we decide to include it shapes the perception of our memory's narrative.


It also offers our audience a chance to discover the emotions and beliefs that trigger our interest and imagination, and drive our choice(s) in visual composition.


I always visit the place this photo was taken together with my daughter. As she sees the horses her face lights with wonder and joy.


Why have I decided to choose this composition? Probably the connection I created to this place influenced me to emulate, what I imagine to be, my daughter's perception of the scene. The canopy of the trees and even number of the subjects build a sense of shelter and familiarity, the low angle and diagonal lines add a sense of energy and strength, the color white represents purity, faith and hope, and its abundance balances the warm colors of the horses.


I found the choice of composition can feel at times daunting, even more so in instances we have little to no time available to find a connection with the elements of the scene.


Experience and instinct will be a best balanced approach, so for those of us who are taking first steps in photography, learning and understanding well tested compositional rules could help gain confidence in tackling creative choices.

 

Compositional Rules


There is a lot of information available online regarding these compositional rules, so the information I intend to share is minimal and related to common scenarios I tend to make use of these rules in (to note there are many more compositional rules besides the ones mentioned here) :


  • Focal Points

At the beginning of my passion for photography, I often found myself mesmerized by the beauty of a landscape, and tried to capture as much of it as the camera would allow me to. Coming home, reviewing the photos on a computer, I was sad to find out the landscapes I photographed had nowhere near as much interest as I remembered them to have. I later found out this was due to the inclusion of way too many subjects in the image, subjects that were competing for attention rather than complementing each other or offering meaningful additional content to the story of the scene.


So I started to simplify and be selective of my choice of subjects. And I learnt to balance focal points.


Most of the times I tend to use the focal points to establish a sense of scale or depth to the image.



In this photo I have used the church as a focal point to offer a sense of scale to this vast landscape.


It helps me provide a sense of depth to the scene, as it makes us interpret the relative distance between us and it.


It also allows me to anchor a possible story topic in its environment, as if I were to use this photo as part of a collection of photos highlighting on the church, our audience would relate easier to it given the context has already been presented: beautiful warm autumn day, a light breeze and no rain clouds in sight.

  • The Rule of Thirds

Most of all I found using this grid to level the composition to either the horizon line or any other dominant line of the subject(s) (lines in the geometry of a house for example).



In this photo I have used the bottom horizontal line of the Rule of Thirds grid to align the composition with the camera.


Interesting note:

The rule of thirds was first written down by John Thomas Smith in 1797 in his book, Remarks on Rural Scenery. - source: Wikipedia


I also found myself using the grid in positioning the subject(s) of the photo relative one third in the frame when there is a lot of negative space surrounding them.



This bird, even though small, manages to capture focus due to its relative position to the meeting point of two grid lines.


This photo also stands as an example for the Rule of Space. I tend to leave a lot more space in the direction the subject is looking towards as it creates a sense of wonder, leaving space for us to imagine what lies beyond the frame.


  • The Rule of Space

I have found myself using the rule of space, exactly as the rule itself suggests, while photographing moving subjects that are not facing the camera.


  • Balance

I tend to find compositional elements to balance with the focal point(s) in terms of visual weight (size, brightness, color, sharpness and direction)



In this photo the dark, mysterious, yet visually interesting foreground balances the warm light of the setting sun near the horizon line.


Although tempted, due to the beauty of the light, If I would've chose to include more sky and less foreground in this image, due to the brightness of the sky, the whole composition would've felt unbalanced, all of our attention would have been captivated by that sunset sky, and to little to no attention would be offered to the interesting shapes of the foreground or the textured ripples of the water and subtle reflections found in it.


  • Shapes Within the Frame

Most of the times I look for shapes that lead the attention towards or in between the subject(s) of the photo.



Deciding to keep color on the moss covering the rocks helped me build a strong leading line towards the subject of this photo.


Converting the rest of the image in Black & White allowed me to de-cluster an extremely busy frame and maintain focus on the cat.

 

Beyond the Theory


The theories within these rules, that I hope I've managed to spark some interest for you to learn, are wonderful explanations for our perception of nature. Learn them, test them, assess them and surpass them! Daring to do so is the aim to create unique compositional recipes.


I found out that beyond the self imposed scrutiny of our compositions against the theories we've learnt, perceived interest and beauty of a photo can be found out not only in perfect balance, well calculated focal points, or precise alignment of compositional elements against mathematically calculated orientation grids, but in any simple and subtle way we can draw attention and interest from others to puzzle together the stories our photos have to say.



One of the fond memories I have associated with this photo is related to the small window of time I was lucky to witness how the dense mist started to fade atop the frozen lake and allowed the warm light of the rising sun to pierce through and fight the cold of night away. The window of time offered me no opportunity to mount a tripod, or consider if the horizon line was aligned with the rule of thirds grid. So I focused on creating a compelling, captivating story of the warm sunrise light chasing away the cold mist.

 

Going Forward


I hope sharing from my experience offered you useful ideas regarding photography composition basics, and I am looking forward to see your photos.


As an exercise, I would encourage you to take at least five images considering each compositional rule I've just mentioned, and feel free to share your photos with me or even with the users of this blog. Write down for all the images why the application of a certain compositional rule helped, and if you feel it hindered or restricted in some way the composition as you would have wanted it to be, write that down as well. I am certain this exercise will be useful to help you find your best compositional recipes!


Thank you for reading, and please do feel free to leave a comment or contact me for questions, feedback, ideas and requests: https://www.andreitanasephotography.com/contact


If you believe this blog is useful for others, please share the link alongside your recommendation to them!


Sincerely,

Andrei



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