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© 2019 by Gavin Doran | New York City Photographer

Crush it with Composition

May 15, 2017

There are a million different ways to take a photo, but thankfully, the art of photography has been studied by great minds who have picked up on a thing or two. 

 

In this blog post, I'll lay out a few simple ways to position your frame in order to get the most beautiful and well composed photographs. 

 

First of all, what IS composition?

 

Composition can be defined as the arrangement of elements in a scene to form a particular visual outcome. 

 

Compositional techniques can often be described as "rules" but they are anything but. Composition simply gives the photographer different blueprints from which to choose to incorporate into their overall vision. Some of the best uses of compositional strategies have been used when nothing is coming to the artist while on a job or in the field, and it can definitely spark inspiration that might save a shoot. 

 

Let's start with the most foundational composition:

 

1.The Rule of Thirds

 

 

This is the bedrock of everything. The big enchilada, if you will. 

 

This strategy states that subjects should be placed at the intersection of lines that divide the photo into thirds. Horizons should be placed on one of the horizontal lines and vertical objects such as a standing person or poles or trees should be placed on the vertical lines. 

 

Here is an example of this technique used in a photo I made in Iceland.

 

As you can see, the subjects (girl+waterfall), which are vertical, are placed on the vertical lines and the horizontal levels of ground are loosely placed on the horizontal lines. As we mentioned before, you have to use these tools as a blueprint and not just as a "rule". Imagine if I had placed the subjects face (instead of the center of her+dress) at the two left intersection points. Either we would have lost her dress or a good bit of the waterfall. Let your eye determine the ultimate balance of the image and what seems appropriate. 

 

 

 

2. Leading Lines

 

Leading lines are just as they sound. Lines that lead you from the edges of the photograph toward the subject. The help to put your eyes on a track that helps avoid distracting elements or emphasizes the importance of the subject within the frame. 

 This photo that I made in Seydisfjordur has many leading lines. Notice how leading lines can be composed of almost anything. In this case, the easy and most bold leading lines are made up of the rainbow sidewalk that guides the viewer straight the our subject (the church). However, it could also be said the the tables as well as the edges of the roof and windows could be leading lines as they form a pattern that leads the eye towards the church. 

 

"So leading lines don't always have to be perfectly straight?"

 

Nope-in fact, thats the very topic of our next compositional strategy...

 

3. The S Curve

 

For many photographers, the S Curve holds the title for the most beautiful compositional element. 

 

It is a form of a leading line, but isn't as in-your-face. It's cool, smooth and casual. It's not trying hard but always gets the job done. 

 

 

 

This image by my good friend Jesse Summers is the perfect example of this compositional element. The S Curve usually starts in the corner of the image and leads the viewer to the subject, however, it is often used at the subject itself and it's appearance in a photograph, whether leading to the subject or not, almost always enhances the photo. Also, one of the best times to use this technique is when there is a river, stream or waterfall around as water very typically forms this pattern when constrained. 

 

4. Yin and Yang

 

 

The Yin and Yang strategy is all about balance. It often used with two subject that are equally weighted within the photo. This balance is most notably used with one subject making up the bottom left and the other making up the top right.

 In this photo I took in Destin, Florida, the girl and the lightening make up our subjects. The pole between the two serves to strengthen their contrast and balance thus bringing our image together nicely. In this (and typically all) compositional strategy, it is important to have strong subjects, or at least subjects that have equal importance to one another, otherwise, even if the size of the subjects is similar, the overall effect will be less and the image won't be as sensible and understood.

 

 

5.  The Triangle 

This compositional technique is one of the most difficult and requires great planning, great timing or both. There are a few ways to form the triangle composition but they all are made up of two ideas. The first is having three subjects in your photo that form a triangle. The other is simply the presence of triangular shapes within the frame-typically made up by things like someones stride and the ground or the stereotypical roof of a building or home. For whatever reason, the eye is drawn to things in threes and this strategy proves that. Here is an example within my work. I'll show you first without the guides first:

 

 Now with the guides:

 

 

There are three strong triangles within this photo-each marked with a different color.

 

The first is in red and is made up by the two girls looking at the boy in the air. The second is made up of the guys looking at the boy. The last, and not so obvious, is the shadow that is coming towards the viewer, caused by the backlight behind them.

 

 

Now that you have some strong starting points, grab your camera and see if you can find these compositions in nature. I'll do this sometimes just to train my eye. Remember-there can be multiple techniques in each photo and they don't have to be perfect to have a great image! Grab a few friends and make it fun-sort of like an advanced game of iSpy. After a few times of that, go ahead and try to replicate these yourself with a model or interesting subject-will you use an S curve to lead the viewers eye toward the subject? Will you try to create the balance with the Yin and Yang technique?

 

I'd love to see what you come up with! Feel free to tag me on Instagram (@gavindoran) with your finished images!

 

 

Also, make sure to come back for next Mondays article:

'What NOT to Do as a Photographer'

 

Cheers!

 

Gavin

 

 

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