The Arty Blogness of Ansate Jones

The ABC’s of improving your photographic technique
ABC’s are a way overdone format for how-to articles, I know. It kind of happened by accident when I was writing up some photo tips and realized that the three most important elements of basic photography could be boiled down to:

A: Available Light

B: Background

C: Composition

If it sounds too easy, it kind of is. What I’m about to share with you are very basic principles that will end up being a lifesaver in your photography. And if it sounds too hard, don’t worry. I’ll go into more detail than you could ever want in later posts.

C: Composition

Composition is one of those things that separate photographers from people who just take photographs. It’s a fundamental part of art that has some guidelines but no hard and fast rules. But even for a part-time picture taker, the guidelines will help you take pictures you won’t cringe at later.

Rule of Thirds

Arguably the most important guideline in composition is called the rule of thirds. You may have heard of it. Basically if you take a picture and divide it into thirds lengthwise and thirds heightwise you’ll get an idea of where major parts of the picture should line up with the intersection points.

Alan's camera is the most interesting thing in this picture, so it'd better be on an intersection point.

Not following the rule of thirds can often lead to an image that looks strangely unbalanced to the eye.

This kind of visual tension works in movies, but not so much in photos.

Nobody puts baby in the center

Symmetry and balance are generally a good idea. But you’ll probably notice that there are no intersection points in the middle of the Rule of Thirds grid. This is intentional. Plopping things dead center in a photograph is a general no-no in art because it leaves no mystery. A good picture lets the eye wander and discover new details, but putting your main subject in the middle gives it all away from the beginning. Even putting your subject just a little bit off center is highly preferable.


Leave room for cropping

Here’s another good rule of thumb: leave some room for cropping the picture later. Why? The picture that comes out of your camera has a dimensional ratio of 2:3 (e.g. 8 x 12) but standard mats and frames follow a different ratio, usually 4:5 (e.g. 8 x 10). Two inches is a big difference if you use up the whole frame with your subject. Often it means that important details will get covered up by the mat if you ever get the photo framed.

In the picture on the left, one or both of my subjects will have to be cropped out to fit an 8 x 10 frame! On the right, I left plenty of room for cropping.

Improvise get crazy

The final piece of advice I have with composition has no formulas. It is simply this: don’t be boring. Try to come up with interesting angles for your subjects.

On the left: "Blah, look, a dead frog on the ground." On the right: "A bleached carcass in an endless wasteland." So much more dramatic!

Consider focusing in on the details that you like best (seriously, shooting primarily with a zoom lens on one hike by mistake made me realize how as humans we naturally ‘zoom in’ on what we find interesting– which of course gets lost in the rest of the picture if we include too much).

Bet you didn't even notice the apple in the first picture, did you?

And finally, if you’re shooting people, try to get them to be themselves. When you’re looking back at your memories, candids will always have more meaning than an artificial smile and pose. It’s up to you as the photographer to get your subjects to loosen up and be themselves. When I was shooting pictures of friends during my last week in college, I told them to do something out of the ordinary for their portraits and I ended up with unique photos that still make me laugh. So much better than lots of scary teeth.

Which one would you rather have as a heartwarming beach photo?

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  1. Pingback: » 8 Ways to Make Your Travel Photos Not Suck Hieratic

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