Composition and Form

Rules. Not a word that sits too well with me, especially when it’s related to photography, something which should be free flowing from the heart of our intuition. However, having a basic knowledge of the ‘rules’ of composition can have a definite benefit as it gives us a language with which we can communicate our emotions through the medium of fine imagery. And also, how can we choose to break the rules unless we’re familiar with them.

I’m not going to harp on too much about this because it’s quite simple, despite the volumes that have been written about it. I’ll outline three compositional guidelines that’ll give you a headstart in speaking stories of photos that will engage your viewers for even longer. The goal is to grab your viewers eyeballs, guide them around your composition and not to let them go until they’ve got what you wanted to say when you took the shot. Ideally they’ll feel the same emotions that you experienced as you made the photograph.

Firstly there’s the Rule of Thirds. You may well have heard of this. In fact it’s covered in photo mags so often that it’s become somewhat overdone lately and photographers try to shy away from it rather than appearing to follow the crowds. However it does have it’s use and once you’re intimately familiar with the ‘rule’ you’ll know when to ignore it. Basically, the rule of thirds asks you to visually divide the image in your viewfinder into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, rather like the ‘noughts and crosses’ grid, or indeed the hash symbol #. It’s tempting to place your main subject slap bang in the centre of frame, but this will rarely engage your viewer for long and by using the thirds you can ensure they linger a while longer. It’s just a matter of placing any lines, boundaries or areas of interest along one of the ‘third’ lines. For instance, if it’s a landscape you’re making, try aligning the horizon a third from the top or the bottom, if it’s a portrait see how it looks with the subject a third from one of the sides rather than central. You’ll probably find the photo more interesting, and so will you friends.

Second, let’s look briefly at leading lines. Again it’s just a matter of applying logic and making sure that any lines lead towards the centre of the shot, rather than right out of the edge. The lines in a picture are pathways for pupils to follow, try to take them deeper into the picture.

Lastly lets look at the viewpoint. Does this shot really have to be taken from head height? How would the composition look to a mouse’s eye, or a couple of feet above your head? A digital camera makes it easier and more economical to try mad things like this. Go on, have a play, give it a try. Develop your compositional story telling.

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