Many people who use the viewfinder to just ensure they have the subject in the frame, are losing the first opportunity to end up with better photographs.
Gone are the days when a great photo was lost through underexposure or overexposure. With all the latest cameras, the chances of a shot being incorrectly exposed are virtually nil, and even camera shake is being overcome by tricky electronics.
My contention is that understanding photographic composition alone, is now the key to getting great photographs. It is that alone which differentiates a “good” photo from a “bad” or “ordinary” one? Get the composition correct and you have a winner.
Here’s how. The photographer’s eye is something that you may or may not be blessed with, but these are some easy hints which will improve the composition and final visual effect of any of your photographs. Guaranteed! You don’t need to be Ansel Adams.
The first rule of composition is to “Look for a different viewpoint”. While the standard, “Put the Subject in the Middle of the Viewfinder” idea will at least ensure that you do get a picture of the subject, it will also ensure that your photographs will be dull and boring! If nothing else, always take two shots, one in the “usual” horizontal format (called “landscape”) and the second one in a vertical (portrait) format. You will be amazed just how this simple trick can give you a better picture. Landscapes taken in the vertical format make the viewer look more deeply at what the photographer is trying to say in the picture.
In attempting to get that different viewpoint you should also try to take some shots from something which is not the standard eye-level position. Lie on the floor, climb a ladder – anything! Just don’t get stuck with standard eye-level views.
The next way to add interest to your photographs is to make sure the subject is one third in from either edge of the viewfinder. Just by placing your subject off-center immediately drags your shot out of the “ordinary” basket. The technocrats call this the “Rule of Thirds”, but just try putting the subjects off-center. While still on the Rule of Thirds, don’t have the horizon slap bang in the center of the picture either. Put it one third from the top or one third from the bottom. As a rough rule of thumb, if the sky is interesting put more of it in the picture, but if it is featureless blue or grey include less of it. Simple!
Now what else can you do? One good little trick is to include some details in the foreground of a shot to lead your eye towards the main subject. Look for lines, roads, telephone wires, fences etc with strong lines to include in the shot. Arrange the picture so that the lines “point” towards your main subject. A few foreground details also help add interest to any photograph.
One foreground detail to always look for is the possibility of producing a “frame” around the main subject. We call this the “Frame within a Frame” technique. It is a very successful way to convert an ordinary shot into one with a lot of visual appeal. And this is indeed a successful ploy. Any of you who have ever looked at all the entries in a photographic competition will perhaps recall that the winning photographs generally will have used that technique.
Perhaps the last tip in making your shots more interesting is to include people in them where possible. That shot of sweeping rolling hills always looks better if you can put some human interest into it as well. A girl on a horse, a couple on a seat or a jogger all help to elevate a landscape above the hum-drum. Always look to add the human element.
In summary, take any shot in portrait as well as landscape mode, try to avoid just simple eye-level shooting positions, place the subject off center, don’t place the horizon line bang in the middle of the picture, look for frames within a frame and stick people in your pictures to give some interest.