Composition in Photography

Photography is all about light – observing it, manipulating it, capturing it, and presenting it.  In fact, the word photography is based on two ancient Greek words that translate literally to “drawing with light.”  Learning to control the interaction of light with your camera is essential, but to produce great images, you will also need to understand Composition: the way all the individual elements that you choose to include form the final image and affect the way it is perceived. 

Before we get to Composition, a brief review of camera settings might be helpful.  Skip this if you already know it.

CAMERA SETTINGS

Most cameras come with mode pre-sets for certain scenes, like Auto, portrait, landscape, night, etc., which take the direct control of exposure out of your hands, amounting to little more than best-guesses by your camera manufacturer about what will work best.  These should probably be mostly ignored.

Consult your camera manual for instructions on individual exposure settings, allowing you to get darkness/brightness and related image attributes as you want them.  Settings to know:

Mode: Use the Mode dial to select M (Manual), S (Shutter Speed Priority), or A (Aperture Priority).  Ignore other settings. 

Shutter Speed Priority.  You select a shutter speed and the camera chooses an aperture to yield a 0 EV.  Handy for panning shots.

Aperture Priority.  You select the aperture to control depth of field and the camera chooses a shutter speed to yield a 0 EV. 

To start with, select M mode in which you control all three settings that determine exposure.

Shutter Speed and Aperture: Usually thumb/finger dials to flip through numerical settings.

ISO control is usually performed via a button on the camera body.

The current settings on your camera for Mode, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and the resulting Exposure Value are displayed next to the scene in the Viewfinder or in the Live View LCD screen.

Suggestion: Before you shut off your camera for the day, it is good practice to return settings to “comfortable” values so you are not surprised when you start up again.  For example: Mode M, Shutter Speed 1/30, Aperture f8, ISO 100.

 

ELEMENTS OF COMPOSITION

Three categories of composition and the elements within each are listed here for ease of reference, before showing illustrative photos for each..

Exposure Triangle (Shutter Speed + Aperture + ISO => Exposure)

Motion (use blur to convey movement)
Depth of Field (use in-focus and out-of-focus to provide focus and context)
Noise: (for clarity or surrealism)
Under-/Over-Exposure (for dark or bright feel)

Properties of Subjects

Lines (to draw the eye, convey stability or strength, convey distance)
Frames (for focus or context)
Repetition (to intrigue or surprise the viewer)
Texture (visually convey physical feel)
Symmetry & Balance (please the eye, “weight” of image subjects)
Anticipation (exploit viewer’s knowledge of what comes next to convey action)
Lighting (quality of light to denote gentleness or drama)

Artist’s Manipulations

Point of View (convey superiority/inferiority, distance, focus)
Foreground (more interesting distance shots)
Simplification (pleasing effect and focus)
Space (intimacy, context, drama)
Abstraction (intrigue the eye)
Rule of Thirds (pleasing balance/unbalance)
Rule of Odds (group of 3 or 5 more comfortable)
Rule of Space (convey action or anticipation)

MAKING A PHOTO GET WHAT YOU WANT: EXPOSURE TRIANGLE
(Shutter Speed + Aperture + ISO => Exposure)

MAKING A PHOTO GET WHAT YOU WANT: PROPERTIES OF SUBJECTS

MAKING A PHOTO GET WHAT YOU WANT: ARTIST’S MANIPULATIONS