22 July 2009

Composition - Photography Tips

I thought for this week’s photography tip I’d talk about composition – one of the three vital elements of an excellent photograph alongside exposure and focus. The composition is what brings an image to life giving it energy and meaning, if you are taking the photograph then that makes you a composer… you're an artiiiiiist dah-ling!

If you are taking pictures to sell craft, for your blog or just snaps of your family you need to think about composition or your photo's will be boring and lack soul.

The Rule of Thirds
Whether you are using portrait or landscape format abiding by this ‘golden’ rule really does help. Either burn it into your retinas or just try really hard to visualise it – think of a noughts and crosses game (tic tac toe) some cameras very helpfully have a grid you can activate to help with composition.

These lines can help you to position subjects to create more interest, taking photos with the subject matter slap bang in the middle can often result in a dull picture. Use the lines and the four points of intersection to place subjects.

In this picture my daughter is placed on the bottom right intersection, and the horizon sits on the top third line. The picture also works nicely because she has space to move across the frame heading diagonally toward the land in the top left. (she can of course walk on water) As a criticism, I would like to remove that boat directly above E's head, then there would be a better relationship between the three subjects, E, the yacht sailing and the yacht in the foreground. Triangles always seem to work better than squares.

Try not to let your subject look like they are heading out of the frame like in this shot below - she's on that intersecting point again but this time I should have reframed to have her on the other side walking into the space - it would have been a much better shot.

The rule of thirds is also true when objects fill the frame, ensure the focus point of the subject is positioned on one of these four points. Even with portraits which appear to be just a central torso and head shot you will find that most people will naturally frame the image so that the eyes are on the top third line.

Changing perspectives and Experimenting

It may sound obvious but try to ask yourself “what is my subject?” and then take a look through the viewfinder or at the lcd panel. Is the background distracting? It could be as simple as stepping 3 paces to the left, moving in closer or getting higher or lower but it is worth taking the time to walk around the subject or just zooming in a little might be all it needs. I can often be found standing on tables (I'm really short) or lying on my stomach to get a more interesting shot.

When photographing objects to sell you should experiment with many different angles and perspectives, especially if it is the first time you have photographed that item – eventually you will find particular viewpoints that work best.

Take your time and take lots of shots, add props or take them away, experimentation is really important, you probably took the time developing new ideas when you were making the object so putting some extra effort in now is really worth while, especially if you intend to make and sell lots of them. Take a look at your competition too, not only the ones that are selling but the ones that aren't, this can be very enlightening and if you are a new seller how better to learn than from other peoples mistakes!

With Etsy and Folksy (and all the other online craft shops) the image often needs to be cropped square as the galleries and thumbnails use this format. It is really important to think about this whilst you are taking the photos as otherwise you will be left making hard choices about which part of your piece is going to be cropped out when you get to the editing stage.

Diagonal Lines = "Come Hither"

Having parts of the subject coming out of the frame towards the viewer really helps to draw the eye in. This is especially true of diagonals as it pleases the eye to see paths into and through the picture. In landscapes diagonals help to make the viewer feel like they are involved in the scene and not just an inert bystander as these lines draw us in to a focal point. When photographing objects diagonals add dynamism and life to the image.

The shots above show how a few simple tweaks can make a big difference. In the shot on the left I have lost the tip of the strap and it looks squeezed into the shot and scruffy. The image on the right is better, the strap is placed on the lower third 'line' and the wristlet opening is moving diagonally up and left to draw the viewers eye through the picture. I'm always experimenting with how to display the beads to emphasise that they come with the wristlet - this was the "they're falling out, Oh my what a lot of beads" shot! Having lots of elements does add to the woes of getting perfect composition.

I can clearly see these imaginary lines now everywhere I look, I hope you can too - constant games of noughts and crosses, perhaps I should get one of these by NatureAutumn!

As a bonus that S curve is also a very pleasing way of arranging a necklace, your eye follows it right round.

Good composition is a subjective thing, however it's important to know the rules even if you choose to break them, I do :o)

I'm on holiday next week so you'll have to wait for the next installment! Maybe it should be holiday snaps! Knowing me I'll forget my batteries and have to buy a disposable camera...