Improve Photo Composition by Stacking Techniques

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Improve Photo Composition by Stacking Techniques

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Question: Do you struggle with photo composition? Do you find yourself limited by the same photo compositional techniques and rules?

Answer: I did too. 

Despite working professionally as a photographer, I often wrestled with feeling confident in my creativity. Even with a technical learning background and 20 years of experience in the field, creativity often felt like a kind of elusive creature. I knew it existed, but it always felt beyond my reach.

Until one day, while on an outing with a fellow photographer, I had a kind of epiphany. I realized, if I could master composition, then creativity would follow naturally.

Does This Sound Like You?

There's a theory that one side of the brain is more dominant than the other in most people. Although untrue, it states that right-brained people are more imaginative and that left-brained people are more analytical. In reality, these are just two ways of thinking that most people can identify with.

I identify with having more analytical and methodic thinking patterns. For me, it's in my nature to take a systematic approach to problems rather than a more artistic approach. So, the technical aspects of photography, like the mathematics involved in determining the aperture, come easily.

But, whenever it came time to think 'creatively' about composition, I felt like I was at a disadvantage and as if I kept making photography composition mistakes. Then, I realized that I could use photo composition as a guide to set up and frame my photos to create a sort of structure for creativity. And if I could introduce storytelling by taking on the perspective of the viewer when looking at my photos, then the creativity I was seeking would come naturally.

The truth of the matter is, I was never at a disadvantage, and neither is anyone else who thinks in the same way. Because every time you take a photo, you're actually employing both creative and systematic thinking approaches. There's method and analysis in determining aspects like focus and exposure, and there's creativity and imagination in determining factors like storytelling and composition.

basic to advanced techniques to improve photo composition
So Many Composition Techniques - Information Overload

At this point, I knew that photo composition was the key to creating more compelling photos and feeling more creative. So I set about learning as much about composition as possible. I spent hours upon hours studying composition techniques in photography, painting, drawing, and other arts.

I went from unaware to researching over 60 different photo composition techniques in excruciating detail. I felt as if I had to learn and master every composition technique I could find to unlock my creativity with 'the perfect composition.'

Quickly, I became overwhelmed. I had all the knowledge, a foolproof blueprint for discovering and developing creativity, but I found myself stumped yet again. I'd be out on a shoot with a beautiful scene in front of me, and still, I couldn't decide which technique I should apply.

To use an analogy, I felt like an author with writer's block. I had all the right words and knew what story I wanted to get across. However, every time I would try sitting down and actually writing, my sentences would come out bland and inelegant.

Mastering Composition With Photo Composition Stacking: The 4-Step System

Eventually, I learned how to overcome my 'writer's block' by developing a four-step system to master composition in photography. And, the best part is, so can you!

Just like learning how to craft a well-written story, photo composition is a lifelong pursuit that requires study, practice, and inspiration to master. And, as with any learning curve, everyone is bound to make photography composition mistakes when they're first starting out.

Keeping with the writing analogy, below is a brief explanation of my 4-step system for photography.

Step 1: Prepare the Camera

Every good story needs a strong opening, and photography is no different. How you position your camera isn't just the vital first step to developing composition, it's also an opportunity to hone your style and show off your sense of originality.

Step 2: Position the Subject

In the same way that an author has to develop characters through detailed descriptions and their interactions with others, photographers are responsible for positioning the subject in a way that connects with the viewer.

Furthermore, your subject positioning should add visual impact and make sense in relation to the other supporting elements in the photograph.

Step 3: Position the Supporting Elements

Speaking of supporting elements, it's essential to take time to make sure that all of your supporting elements work in tandem to create balance in your photo's composition. Try to think of the position of your supporting elements in the same way that a writer would approach their plot development through effective dialogue.

There's a certain give and take that makes sense for the characters, a balance of tension building and release. And, as with photography, it has to be done while striking a balance between showing and telling the audience.

Step 4 - Edit to direct viewer attention

The last step in finalizing a piece of writing, photography, or really, most any other form of art, is to edit. Editing is your chance to fine-tune any details that need correction, better direct the viewer's attention, and make your last checks for any photography composition mistakes. When done correctly, the editing process serves as the final satisfying conclusion to your story.

Study And Model Your Favorite Photos

In addition to utilizing the Photo Composition Stacking: 4-Step System to master composition, you can also look to your favourite photographs and artworks for inspiration. Once you're well versed in more advanced composition techniques, you can improve your photography by learning to recognize different techniques in other people's works.

Let's have a look at one of your favourite photos or pieces of art, preferably not a piece of your work. While looking at the photo, try and answer the following questions:

stronger improve photo composition: 4-step system combine and stack techniques rules and tools
  • How many composition techniques do you recognize?
  • How many fit into each of the four steps of my Photo Composition Stacking: 4-Step System?
  • Which order do you think the photographer considered each of the techniques?
  • In what way would you change the photograph's composition to improve upon it, if any?
In Conclusion

I hope that in sharing my struggles, I've been able to shine a bit of light on a few of the challenges that many photographers face. 

If you want to learn how to not be overwhelmed by more than 100 composition techniques and tools... learn more about the Stronger Photo Composition: 4-Step System - click/tap here

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