FAQ - Composition

How do you make a good picture?

Composition

What constitutes good composition? What kind of tricks can be employed to make the best possible images we can? The first rule of composition is that there are NO rules. So instead I offer some guidelines for creating better pictures.

These first 3 guidelines are my favourites:-

Getting as close to your subject as space, law, common courtesy and time will permit is always good.

Then there are the all time favourites,

Also look for,

Depending on your mood or idea you might think about:-

Composition is often everything and nothing, it needs however to not look contrived for it to succeed. Knowing your subject well is one step to making this happen. Being prepared and aware is another. Not being burdened by technical issues helps [therefore a good thorough knowledge of your technique is important]
Good composition can be learned, some people have an natural sense of it. If you are keen to learn, hone, improve or expand your compositional skills, then my suggestion is to study the masters. Look at figurative paintings, look at lots and lots of photography books. Study them carefully. Pay attention to the details mentioned above and try and emulate them as best as you possibly can.

Lens choice and point of view are also two simple ways to best exploit any given situation use these in conjunction with the above steps and your pictures will improve remarkably.

What is the rule of thirds I hear you ask?

Imagine a 35mm film frame, divided into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. These lines intersect at 4 four points each is said to be the best place to place your main subject matter.
If each corner of the frame has something within it then your composition will improve, as landscape is my predominant subject matter, I often use trees clouds, power lines to occupy these spaces. A cloud in one top corner and blue sky in the other is a common approach for me also.
Looking carefully through your viewfinder it may be possible to arrange a series of objects across what is already a strong diagonal [particularly for 35mm frames] often a slight shift in point of view can make dramatic changes to this. Good composition is endless and complex it is also straightforward and simple, practice heaps, look at how others do it and you will soon find yourself becoming a much better photographer as a consequence.

Backgrounds

One of the most overlooked areas of composition is I feel; the background. Admittedly some genres of photography don't offer much in the way of time to reflect on the scene generally. But for 80% of photography you can pay attention to this detail. Sorry not can... should pay the utmost attention to this small yet important detail.
I have for many years looked at many student images where the student neglected this point and the resulting image reeks of amateurish snap shots. Simply skimming the area behind the subject in the viewfinder will allow us to look and hopefully spot for unwanted added extras, such as electricity poles, signs or any other device that may detract from the subject at hand.
Not only do we need to watch out for these added extras, but we can turn this part of our craft to our advantages by using such things a dramatic change in contrast to our advantage. Placing an empty window behind the subjects head for example can help to emphasise the face against the dark background.

Rules...as if!

Finally though, when its all said and done, there are no hard and fast rules, but understanding these guidelines, and looking at how the other established canons have done it is all it requires. Eventually Good composition will become second nature, as will good technique, and your images will look as stunning and professional as they should.

Conclusion.

Hardware is important to maintain a reasonable amount of control over your images, but what REALLY counts is your ability to see 'photographically'. Chase Jarvis, says it all so well on his website, basically the best camera you have, is the one you have on you at all times. Just train yourself to 'see' the world in terms of light and colour shape and form and your photography will improve, in leaps and bounds.