FREE Roadmap to Create Your Next Favourite Photo
The 15-step process is involves four phases:
> Photographic intention
> Storytelling, narrative and composition
> Photo capture techniques
> Mobile photo editing to enhance the narrative
Time and time again, new photographers have approached me with the same question: How can I improve my photography quickly and drastically? My answer is always the same: composition.
To get a full grasp of what composition is, let's first take a look at an example for a more visual understanding. In the below example, there are over 40 different compositional techniques and tools to create a more balanced and visually appealing photo.
However, before you can start combining different compositional techniques to your photography, it's essential first to have a comprehensive understanding of what composition is, why it's important, and how you can become an expert in it. To find out everything you need to know about photo composition, continue reading below.
In photography, composition refers to how the visual elements of a photo are positioned, as well as the interactions and relationships created by the arrangement of elements. At its most basic, photo composition is how you design a picture - and, believe it or not, the practice has been in use for thousands of years.
Composition stacking is the process of combining composition techniques; in the above example, the photo composition techniques being exhibited are the rule of odds, contrasting colours, leading lines radial balance and many more.
Regardless of the era, form, or location, composition has played a vital role in art as an element of design. Going back to one of man's earliest civilizations, the use of composition in art can be observed in wall paintings and artifacts created by the ancient Egyptians and within the well-known Grecian concept of the 'Golden Ratio' exhibited in their representations of the human form.
Persevering through the middle ages, the Renaissance, and right up to modern times, the use of composition has remained integral across paintings, sculptures, and virtually every other artistic medium. And photography is no exception.
Now that you know the deeply ingrained connection between art and composition, the question is: why is composition such a crucial aspect of photography, in particular? Well, if executed properly, the composition of a photo serves as a photographer's strongest tool for visual storytelling.
Combine physical motion or interaction between subjects with a differential (or selective) focus to achieve contrasts between stillness and motion, as well as contrasts between the subject, foreground, and background.
The composition of your photograph, when applied successfully, communicates your intention by directing the viewer's attention. Thus, composition gives you the power to dictate points of interest in your photograph that capture and hold viewer focus, effectively creating a narrative that can be intrinsically felt or 'read,' so to speak.
For a moment, think about the way the average person uses their smartphone to take photos. Oftentimes, someone will simply hold the camera at eye level and take the photo without much thought about it. While this might be the quickest and most common way to take snapshots, it results in photos that lack diversity and creativity, primarily due to the absence of composition.
You can utilize composition in your smartphone photography to elevate and improve your photos, making them truly unique to you as a photographer. Perhaps the easiest and most transformative way to introduce compositional elements into your smartphone photography is to use the composition guidelines already on your phone's camera.
Composition guidelines are the four semi-transparent white grid lines that run equidistant to each other horizontally and vertically over the viewfinder of your camera. Or, in the case of a smartphone, the composition guidelines appear over the preview image before you take a photo.
Take some time to get comfortable with using compositional guidelines by setting up a mock photoshoot for yourself. It doesn't have to be anything fancy; just grab a couple of items from around your house to arrange and shoot. Try lining up your subject, foreground, background, etc., using the different composition guidelines and the points where they intersect.
If you'd like to try composition guidelines on your already existing photography, you can use photo editing apps to apply the grid lines and crop your photos accordingly. Try this process in a few different ways on the same photo and reflect on your results.
There's a common misconception that high-quality smartphone photography requires heaps of fancy, expensive equipment and upgrades for your phone. The truth is, it's all about technique, and even the most sophisticated smartphone camera available can't make up for the lack of compositional skills.
While lighting, focus, white balance, and other technical aspects can be easily adjusted thanks to manual controls and apps, there are certain photography skills (like composition) that must be learned and developed over time. This is where photography courses come into play. When taught correctly, photography courses on composition provide you with the information and learning tools you need to become more intuitive and creative turning the mundane into interesting and exciting photos.
Unfortunately, not all photography courses classes are created equal. As a matter of fact, there are so many different approaches to teaching photography courses that you'll find many contradict each other. Perhaps the most common practice, though, is to teach students the rules and techniques of composition, only to encourage students to break the rules in the name of creativity.
It's here that I differ from my contemporaries. Rather than teach that breaking the rules is the only route to creativity, I prefer to focus on advancing creativity through exploration and experimentation. Not to say that the rules cannot be broken, but to show that there are a variety of ways for photographers' creativity to flourish.
Frequently, deviations from classic photography techniques result in lesser-known but still established techniques, anyway. For example, if you're primarily shooting symmetrical photographs and choose to take a photo that isn't symmetrical, it's not really breaking the 'rules' so much as it is practising asymmetry.
With more than 100 compositional techniques and tools to choose from, learning how to use composition in your photography can become a rather daunting task. Between figuring out which methods to use and how to use them, it's not uncommon for beginning photographers and advanced photographers alike to feel inundated with options.
As a result, many photographers end up falling into the trap of repetition, reverting to practiced composition techniques that they're already comfortable using. Keep in mind that although practice and repetition can be incredibly beneficial when first learning different composition techniques, overuse of the same composition techniques ultimately will prevent you from growing and learning as a photographer.
That's why I've recently developed a new, comprehensive course on composition with a focus on smartphone photography.
Now available, the 'Stronger Photo Composition: 4-Step System' simplifies over 100 composition techniques and tools by grouping them into four groups that have become sequential steps.
The 'Photo Composition Stacking: 4-Step System' breaks down the process of composition into the following stages:
1. Prepare and position the camera
2. Position the subject in the frame
3. Position the supporting elements
4. Composition mobile editing tools
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