9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

Sometimes it feels like getting the right composition is an endlessly moving target, with this technique and that idea and many other considerations. Balance is one of the more complicated concepts but is also a really powerful tool that is worth investing some time learning. To help you out, here are 9 ways and elements you can use to help you create balance in your images.

lighthouse - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

What is balance?

Balance is a way of composing an image so that all elements complement each other equally. Visual tension or harmony are created which results in a pleasing image.

Many different elements can be involved with incorporating balance into your image composition:

  1. Color
  2. Light versus shadow
  3. Texture
  4. Visual weight
  5. Subject placement
  6. Relation of elements to each other
  7. Symmetry
  8. Depth of field
  9. Negative space

How do you achieve balance?

When you compose your scene you need to think about the different elements and how they interact and relate to each other. What is the story you want to tell or frame up? What is the emotion you are trying to convey?

Balance can be harmonious, where all elements are equally present and form an aesthetically pleasing whole – symmetry is a good example. A landscape scene perfectly mirrored in a still pond or lake is very harmonious.

An image can have visual tension due to unbalance. It may seem counterintuitive to say that this also creates balance but think about negative space or a small spot of bright red in an otherwise dull image.

Often several different factors come into play in considering balance, it’s not necessarily just one problem to solve for each image. Every image has color, a subject, tone, contrast and so on, which are all involved in producing your final image.

Some of these concepts have to do with the mechanics of how you take the photo (light/shadow/contrast/tone) and some are more compositional (symmetry/negative space/subject placement). So there are many different things to consider at once within each image.

Let’s look at each in more detail:

#1 – COLOR

cherries in a bowl - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

Even though this is a very dark image with a lot of blacks, the rich intense color of the cherries is not lost in the background – the color, quantity and placement balance out against the black shadows

Color has a great impact on your images.  When color film finally emerged it had a huge impact on photography. Being able to see bright colors instead of monochrome was very different. It lead to many different styles and techniques in photography and is still the dominant way images are processed today.

It allows you to evoke emotion, create tension, highlight a specific element, catch our attention and tell the story of the image in different ways.

garden with a red bush - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

Take this garden shot with all the different foliage shades of green and yellow – yet the eye goes immediately to the small but prominent red flowers. This image has balance because the red has a lot of visual weight but physically is only a small part of the overall image.

If it was much bigger it would overwhelm, instead, it gives somewhere to start the journey looking at all the different textures and colors contained in the garden.

b/w of a bike - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

Using color to evoke a mood, a feeling, or a period of time

This old bicycle turned into a Welcome sign at a historic homestead. By opting for a slightly sepia tone it picks up all the textures in the shot and evens out all the different competing colors.  The focus becomes the bicycle and not the bright green of the grass or the red of the chicken in the background. Changing the colors balances out all the other elements and allows the subject you want to be the focus.

#2 – LIGHT VERSUS SHADOW

Light and shadow are the opposite elements necessary for photography. If you have light, in general, you will have shadows. When you have both present it gives your subjects added dimension, they become physical rounded elements, not flat even though they are being viewed in a flat 2D medium (either printed or on a screen).

Contrast and tonal difference make an image more dynamic and interesting. Contrast comes from the difference between the amount of light and shadow in an image.  More contrast also widens out the tonal range of the image, when it is too similar it will look very flat (like the seaside landscape below).

overcast seascape image - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

This image taken on a heavily overcast day has very little contrast, it’s quite flat and tonally similar and as a result, lacks punch and impact. It is not balanced in the light/shadow equation and it shows up visually as a result.

So learning to use both light and shadow together can create balance in your images. The horseshoe image below was specifically shot to use the harsh midday sun to generate the shadows and capture the patterns and how they hang on the nails. It would be a much less interesting image without the shadows.

horse shoes in b/w - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

#3 – TEXTURE

Texture can be present in different ways – in the image of the spoons with spices (below) there are three layers of texture – the background surface, the spices in the spoons, and some scattered spices.  While there is a lot of texture in the image, it balances due to the scale and the blending layer in between which softens the difference between the spices and the industrial background.

If the extra scattered spices were not there it would not work as well as they help transition the eye around the image.

spices in 3 spoons - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

This blueberry shot uses texture in a different way, where the subjects themselves become the textural element, with some added interest in the form of water droplets. Without the droplets, it was a much less interesting image, and the fine detail of the droplets help balance out the size of the berries, giving the eye more elements to engage with.

blueberries - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

Think tree bark, patterns on the water, brick walls, cracks in the pavement, clouds in the sky, foliage in a garden, shiny reflective metal, stones in a pond, sand at the beach. Think long exposure to produce soft foamy waterfalls or interesting cloud patterns. Consider ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) for soft blurred effect or pretty light trails.

Texture is all around you and in everything you see, but it is often taken for granted. Texture can be highlighted and become a key element in your image if you take the time to see it and take advantage of it.

#4 – VISUAL WEIGHT

This is a tricky concept to come to grips with as it sometimes seems a bit contradictory. How can a small element overwhelm a bigger image? How can one color dominate another one?

In the butterfly image below, the tones are all very similar, even the colors are shades of yellow and brown. Yet the visual weight is actually held by the fuzzy green leaf in the bottom corner.  If you crop the bottom section off it completely changes the feel of the image, and the butterfly becomes more prominent.

monarch butterfly - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

One of my personal favourite images is of a fresh new bright limestone headstone in a cemetary of very old and weathered stones (below). The light was at the perfect angle to highlight the one stone which carries the visual weight yet is only a very small element physically within the image.

The central placement works well in balancing the other elements around it and allows more of the story to be told – if the focus was tight on the headstone it would have had a very different feel to the image.

cemetery - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

5. SUBJECT PLACEMENT

Where you place the subject in the frame is important in many ways. It can be used to show scale, the relationship between elements, to highlight tension, or to create a specific feel or stylistic tone to an image.

A classic example is the Rule of Thirds – where it is taught that a center placed subject lacks drama and impact – place the subject on the third lines to make it more dynamic within the frame. When the subject is looking in a particular direction, where you place them affects the feeling of the image. If they are looking out of the frame, placing them close to the edge is quite a different image than if you compose the image so that they are looking more into/across the frame.

In the cave image below the people add balance by providing scale. Without them there we would be unable to appreciate the true size of the cave as we have no context to apply. The bright colors of their clothes also offer some visual weight in contrast to the textured details of the rock walls. The positioning at the bottom of the frame grounds the image and helps tell the story.

large cave opening - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

The placement of this bellbird on the branch is an appealing balance of angles and lines. The line of the main branch is echoed by the blurred ones in the background – this gives some depth and scale to the image.

The bird is a nice size within the image, large enough to see the details, but not cramped within the frame and his crimson eye holds a lot of visual weight as well. If the bird was angled the other way it would be less pleasing as it would not be balanced the same way, as the X is symmetrical.

yellow bird in a tree - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography
#6 – RELATIONSHIP OF ELEMENTS

Similar to #5 above, this takes the placement concept a step further. You need to consider the specific relationship between elements and how can you use that in composing your image.

In this landscape shot below, it’s a pretty simple land/sea/sky shot – not really very interesting at all.  But the inclusion of the sign right next to the edge of the cliff changes everything. The bright red of the letters catches our attention (as it should) and even though the sign is small it has large impact.

Had the sign not been so close to the edge, it may have been a less compelling image. In composing this, the Rule of Thirds was also used to provide scale and context with the cliff edge off to the right, showing that the cliff continued (it was actually a whole headland of several hundred meters with just this one sign).

danger sign cliff warning - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

Below is a wide-angle landscape shot of some fossilized totara tree trunks at Curio Bay, The Catlins, NZ. Landscapes when taken with a wide angle often lose context if they don’t have a foreground element to anchor them.

The person also helps tell more of the story, while providing a color pop of bright blue visual interest and weight against the sand and rock. His presence in the front of the frame balances out the large wider angle landscape behind him and gives scale to appreciate how big it is.

man in a landscape image - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

#7 – SYMMETRY

When done well and with thought, symmetry can be a useful tool. Putting your subject dead center in the frame can be a risk too. While a mirror image in a lake or puddle can be pretty, it can also be quite static and uninteresting. An odd situation where the image is perfectly balanced and yet it doesn’t actually work compositionally!

Below, the autumn tree reflection is a mirror image but the angle at which it has been shot puts the focus on the landscape. So the reflection is not necessarily the point of the image. Instead, it is more of an added bonus. Also, the way the trees are arranged creates balance across the image, the two golden willows are rounded and slightly shadowed.

They are counterbalanced by the taller golden poplar, with similarly toned grass behind, and the green of the reeds in the water. There is enough contrast in the image with the light and shadow elements to add depth and interest while the gold/blue color combination is an aesthetically pleasing one.  The reflection softens the colors and tones enough that they allow the actual landscape to take prominence.

This image was specifically composed with all those things in mind.

fall scene and reflection - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

#8 – DEPTH OF FIELD

Does everything in your image have to be 100% sharp? My answer to that is no. You can use Depth of Field creatively, balancing the subject against the softer background, allowing the subject to be prominent and the strong focal element.

Imagine the shot of the larch cones below if the aperture was more like f/11. If all the foliage and trees in the background were in focus then the cones would be lost against it. Portrait photographers use this concept to their advantage, shooting their subject in a similar way to get them to stand out from a sometimes messy or distracting background.

pine cones on a tree - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

#9 – NEGATIVE SPACE

Negative space is an interesting composition element that works for some shots. Remembering to keep it in the back of your mind for the rare occasion it might suit can be difficult. Also being brave enough to try a different approach than you normally use is challenging.

When used carefully, negative space adds value to an image by providing a lot of empty space to create balance for a particular subject. It is often used successfully in travel photos, where brightly coloured walls or buildings offer a great canvas for a person to be posed against, often as they walk past.

This gerbera shot has a lot of negative space on the left and underneath the flower. Because of the curving stem and the dynamic angle of the flower, this image has a lot of movement for the eye. The negative space offers a calming balance to that energy.

pink gerbera - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

The smooth soft water of this long exposure offers some negative space to balance out the visual weight of the rocks and the busy sky. The light tones of the water also create balance with the darker tones of the sand.

b/w beach scene - 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography

CONCLUSION

Sometimes an image can feel just subtly off even though the subject might be good, the light is good and the composition seems to be alright. It is worth taking a look at those images with fresh eyes and considering the balance of the different elements discussed here. Perhaps you will begin to see some opportunities to compose your images in a different way?

Composition often seems to be a never-ending quest to find the holy grail of elements.  Do you have perfect lighting? Is your subject awesome? Are they doing something cool or interesting? Are the colors fresh and vibrant? Is it exotic? Does it have a wow factor?

Yet your image might have all of those things and still not seem quite right. So take a look at how the different elements relate to each other from a balance point of view.

Maybe instead of trying to remember all the complicated rules of composition – let’s keep it much simpler and start with balance. Or maybe you want your work to be really edgy and challenging and you aim for the tension in a deliberately unbalanced work – that is also a viable creative choice too.

But if you feel that your images lack a certain something, try looking at them from a balance point of view and see what you get. Like everything in photography, there is no one single right way to do it. Instead, there are many different ways, and hopefully one will resonate with you to help you learn something new.

If you are someone who considers balance when composing your images, what other ways do you think about? This is merely a summary of the many possible options that I keep in mind when shooting. Please share any others I haven’t mentioned in the comment area below.

The post 9 Ways to Create Balance in Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Composition Checklist for Beginners

At a recent meetup with several photographers, during a discussion on composition, one of the beginners commented: “Why isn’t there a composition checklist for all the things we need to think about?” It was a good question and was the inspiration that prompted this article.

It’s not about the gear

You can have the most expensive camera gear and the most amazing light. You could be in a fabulous scenic location, or shooting a stunning model. There are many situations that might provide you with the opportunity to shoot breathtaking images, but if the composition is not spot on, then it doesn’t matter how fancy or expensive your gear is.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - flower blooming

The reverse is true also, you can craft amazing images with beginner grade gear (even your cell phone) if your understanding of composition is good. When you know the rules and guidelines, can work them to your advantage, and even push the barriers and be really creative. No one will care what gear you used to get the shot, they will go “Wow, you must have an amazing camera!”

Learn the composition basics

Even though there are many different kinds of photography, whether you do street, landscapes, macro, studio or anything else, there are a lot of basic composition concepts that apply. Not every concept will need to be considered for every image but having a good understanding of the basics will get you a long way.

Truly understanding composition was one of the major steps in my photography making a big step up in improvement. Like every new idea, you have to put some effort into learning the idea, practicing, learning from your mistakes and practicing again and again. When you can frame up a well-composed shot without consciously thinking about what you are doing and why then you can really start to think about new ways to frame and shape your images.

First, you have to master the basics.

roller derby - Composition Checklist for Beginners

Getting Started

First of all, these are not rules. While there are some guidelines you should consider when creating an aesthetically pleasing image, it is entirely possible to ignore them all and still make a stunning image. It is, however, a lot easier to do that when you know what the guidelines are first. So this is a list of concepts you should consider for each image, not rules you absolutely have to follow.

Some things are easy and obvious, or so you might think. Yet the number of images with noticeably crooked horizons you see posted online is a testament to the fact that this stuff is not always obvious, and is hard to learn. Be kind to yourself and take it in stages. Maybe even write your list down and carry it in your camera bag as a handy reminder.

Also, every image will have different elements in it, and different concepts will apply. So pick and choose the ones that work for you and the scene in front of you. As an example, there are things you would do when framing up a landscape that won’t apply when shooting street photography shots.

So be sensible, pick a few that make sense to you or that apply to the way you shoot. Then practice them until it’s like breathing – it just happens automatically when you pick up the camera and frame a shot. When you get to that stage, add some more concepts to your process, and absorb those the same way.

Composition Checklist

So here is the checklist of things to look for in your composition as a starting point.

  1. Is the horizon straight?
  2. Is the subject strong and obvious within the image?
  3. Are the edges of the frame clean? Is anything poking into the frame that distract the viewer? Are there elements of the image that lead the eye out of the frame that could be positioned better?
  4. Is the background clean – are there distracting elements like a car parked in the background, or a fence or a house that doesn’t fit? Can you move or change the angle to remove that element?
  5. Is the foreground tidy? Are you shooting a landscape or natural scene where there might be branches or leaves or twigs in the foreground that could be tidied away?
  6. The position of people in the shot. Do they have a lamp post or a tree growing out of the top of their head? Have you chopped heads, feet, arms, or legs off?
  7. Eye contact – when shooting a group of people, do we have eye contact with all your subjects?
  8. Camera position – are you at the right height/angle for the best composition?
  9. Point of focus – when taking photos of people/creatures/animals have you focused on the eye? Do you have a catchlight in the eye?
  10. Is the Rule of Thirds being used effectively?
  11. Do you have a sense of scale – particularly valid for large landscape scenes?
  12. How does the eye travel around the image? Where does it go first? Where does it end up? Is that the story you want to tell the viewer?
  13. Lens choice – does the lens you are using affect the composition in a positive or negative way? Would a different lens be worth considering?
  14. Less is more – what truly needs to be in the frame? What can you leave out?
  15. Is it sharp? Do you want it to be?

Considering Composition in More Detail

#1 – Is the horizon straight?

It would seem fairly easy to notice if the horizon is straight when you are taking a shot. It is also extremely easy to fix in post-processing, yet so many images are posted online that have crooked horizons, varying from a little bit to quite a lot. Our brains automatically hiccup when they encounter it, so it is a genuine composition issue that needs to be resolved.

You can take the time to set the camera up so it is completely level. When shooting a panorama, timelapse, video and similar things, it is worth the extra effort. For general purpose use, it can be easily edited in post-production.

tilted horizon example - Composition Checklist for Beginners

The horizon is about 3 degrees tilted down to the left – just enough to make your brain twitch.

#2 – Is the subject strong and obvious within the image?

There are some composition concepts that are fairly straightforward and obvious, like point #1 above. Then there are some that are more open to interpretation.

This point could be considered one of those things. However, I then propose this question to you. If the subject is not strong or obvious then how do we know what the point of your image is?

Composition Checklist for Beginners - green garden image

There are a lot of competing elements in this image, where do we start?

#3 – Are the edges of the frame clean?

Are there things poking into the frame that distract the viewer? Look for elements in the image which lead your eye out of the frame. Could they be positioned better?

Running your eye around the edge of the frame when composing your shot is a valuable step that can save you a lot of time. This is one lesson I personally had to learn the hard way and it applies to most general styles of photography.

Are there things poking into the frame from outside it that impose themselves on the image and distract the viewer? Are there blurry elements in the foreground that you could move or change your point of view to reduce their impact? Is there half a car or a building partially visible in the background perhaps?

Quite often when you are framing a shot, you are focused so intently on the subject, that you may neglect to see the whole image. So you may miss these extra details that can make or break the shot.

purple flower - Composition Checklist for Beginners

The extra leaf and bud in the top left corner are distracting.

#4 – Is the background clean?

Are there distracting elements like a car parked in the background, or a fence or a house that doesn’t fit? Can you move or change the camera angle to eliminate that element from the image?

This is an extra step on top of point #3 above – putting more effort into assessing the background.

Are you taking a nice landscape and there is a farm shed clearly visible? Perhaps there is a truck parked in the distance or a vehicle on the road you need to wait to move out of frame. Are the colors harmonious? Is the sky doing nice things? Is the sun a bit too bright in the clouds?

colonial mansion - Composition Checklist for Beginners

This lovely colonial mansion had a very modern hospital and school behind it and was difficult to frame it up to reduce those jarring elements.

#5 – Is the foreground tidy?

Are you shooting a landscape or natural scene? Are there branches, leaves, or twigs in the foreground that could be tidied away?

This is particularly relevant in nature and landscape photography, but still worth remembering in general.

Is what you have in the foreground adding to the image or distracting from the subject? Is there rubbish or stuff on the ground that looks messy? Are there twigs too close to the lens so they are blurry? Can you move any branches or things out of the way or do you need to change the angle of shooting instead?

Composition Checklist for Beginners - red mushroom

Look at all the mess of cones and twigs in the foreground, all blurry and untidy.

#6 – The position of people or the subject

Do any people in your image have lamp posts or a tree growing out of the top of their heads? Have you chopped heads, feet, arms, or legs off awkwardly?

Often a problem for posed outdoor shots, this is essentially a specific element of point #3 above – checking the background in relation to your subjects.

Is the camera straight, is the angle flattering? Are people squinting into the sun? Is the lighting good? Do you have all their body parts within the frame? Is everyone looking in the same direction or interacting in the desired manner?

cat photo - Composition Checklist for Beginners

His eyes are sharp but I cut his front paws off, not good.

#7 – Eye contact

When shooting a group of people, do we have eye contact with all the subjects?

Quite often when shooting people they will generally be looking at the camera. However, if some are and some are not, it has a weird kind of dissonance to the viewer. So make sure you have some way of engaging the people so they look at you and take several shots.

If worst comes to worst you can work some Photoshop magic to blend a few frames together if it’s a critical image.

Composition Checklist for Beginners

Notice they are not all looking at the camera.

#8 – Camera position

Are you at the right height and camera angle for the best composition?

Being at eye level with your subject makes a big difference to the feel of an image. When photographing people, the camera angle does have an effect on how flattering the shot might be to the subject.

You may want to push some creative boundaries and do something different for a particular scene. Street photography is one genre where the height and angle can directly impact the story you are telling.

On average most people tend to stand and shoot from that position, but what if you get down really low?  What if you find some stairs or some way to get higher up?  What if you shoot straight down on top of your subject rather than side on?

Start to think more creatively about how you use composition to evoke a mood or tell a story about a scene.

white swan - Composition Checklist for Beginners

This image works because I was flat on the shore at a similar height to the swan. Had I been standing you would not have seen the wonderful curve in the bird’s neck.

#9 – Point of focus

When taking photos of people, creatures or animals have you focused on their eyes? Do you have catchlight in the eyes?

If you have a subject with eyes in the image that is looking at the camera it is important to have the focus point on the eye. Faces of people, birds, and animals are very dimensional and it can be easy to get the focus point on the tip of the nose or forehead or somewhere else. So if you have a living creature looking at your camera, focus on their eye.

Another trick to make them look alive and engaged is to angle your shot so that there is some light reflected off the dark iris. This is called a catchlight and is important especially for animals and birds that have large dark eyes. Fashion photographers use fancy round beauty dish lights to give a distinctive ring effect in their shots.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - cat photo

The nose is sharp but the eyes are just a bit out of focus which is not desirable.

#10 – Is the Rule of Thirds being used?

While the Rule of Thirds is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule, it is a good one for a beginner to take on board. It is easy to remember and does help you create a more dynamic and interesting image when used well.

So if you intend on using it, add it to your mental checklist.

birds - Composition Checklist for Beginners

The subject in this image is more or less in the middle, but if you crop it to use Rule of Thirds the image doesn’t work as well.

#11 – Do you have a sense of scale in your landscape scenes?

Big mountain vistas are lovely. But sometimes they can become bland and uninteresting because they lack a sense of scale to truly appreciate them.

One recommendation is that a foreground element can be used to both ground the image and provide scale for the big vista behind it. Some photographers like to use themselves as a prop to help add scale as well.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - man in landscape scene

#12 – How does the eye travel around the image?

Where does your eye go first? Where does it end up? Is that the story you want to tell the viewer?

What do you have in the image to engage the eye? Are there different elements or points the eye can travel around? Does it have contrast? Are there elements that lead the eye out of the image? Are there elements that lead the eye into or around an image?

spider web in a tree - Composition Checklist for Beginners

#13 – Lens choice

Does the lens you are using affect the composition in a positive or negative way? Would a different lens be worth considering?

This can cross the boundary between a technical consideration and a creative one. Sometimes there may be a valid reason to use a specific lens, a faraway subject likely to fly away demands the use of a long lens. A tiny flower might be better shot with a macro lens. Telephoto lenses compress the elements in an image, making them seem closer together. Wide angle lenses create a lot of distortion around the edges, especially at minimal focal lengths.

Beyond that are the creative choices. Yes, you could shoot the front of this house with a wide focal length, but what if you put a zoom on and highlighted the fancy door knocker or handle? Is the lens you are using giving a flattering look to the person you are shooting?

Composition Checklist for Beginners - large eagle wings spread

A different lens would have allowed me to zoom out far enough to get this entire bird in the frame *sigh*.

#14 – Less is more

What truly needs to be in the frame? What can you leave out?

A mistake a lot of beginners make is to include too many elements in an image. It can be cluttered, messy, and confusing as to the point of the image.

Sometimes that can be used to advantage in things like street photography, but usually, less is more. A strong obvious subject and minimal distraction around it is a very aesthetically pleasing combination but it can be difficult to learn how to frame images up this way.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - landscape scene

So much going on here, its a bit overwhelming with no clear subject. It’s a pretty scene but is the composition effective?

#15 – Is the image sharp?

Do you want it to be? Not every image need to be 100% sharp. You can use aperture to creative effect by selecting a narrow depth of field. ICM or Intentional Camera Movement adds blur and movement as well. Use of specialty lenses like those from Lensbaby gives you many different ways to add soft focus or special effects to enhance your image.

Many street shots have blurred movement and creative focus elements, either the photographer or the subject (or both) may be moving.

Some people insist that images be absolutely as sharp as they can be, but that is a creative choice up to you, the photographer.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - motion blur from moving water

A bit of slow shutter speed on the waves for a soft creative swirl effect.

Summary

Some of the items on the checklist are basic sensible things that apply to most images. Some are more advanced technical considerations. Others may only apply if you are considering trying some more creative approaches to your composition

There are many other specific technical concepts that are not covered in this composition checklist. When you are ready for them, you can find plenty of information here on dPS to guide you.

This list is designed to cover the most basic ideas and thoughts that a beginner might need to keep in mind when first starting to think about properly composing and framing up their images. Good news, if you have made the step to start making your images with deliberate intention, that means you already have your feet on the path to becoming a better photographer.

Pick a few key items from this composition checklist that apply to your style of photography and try to remember them deliberately everytime you shoot. Eventually, it will become so automatic, you adjust for them without thinking, your mental muscle memory will have kicked in.

Are there any key concepts you feel should be included in this list?  By all means, let me know in the comments below.

The post Composition Checklist for Beginners appeared first on Digital Photography School.

4 of the Most Common Composition Mistakes In Photography

Common composition mistakes in photography

I’ve seen photographers make lots of mistakes when it comes to composition. That’s not a criticism – we all get things wrong from time to time. But recognizing mistakes and putting them right is a key part of improving your composition skills. In that spirit then, here are the most common composition mistakes and errors that I’ve seen photographers make.

Mistake #1: Learning the rule of thirds – and nothing else

The rule of thirds is basic composition theory and it’s important to understand it. But the mistake some photographers make is never trying to learn anything else about composition.

For example, take a look at the photo below. The tree is located on an intersection created by dividing the frame into three, according to the rule of thirds.

Common composition mistakes in photography

But is the rule of thirds the only principle of composition used in this photo? No, it isn’t. Let’s look at the other factors.

  • There is negative space around the tree. It gives the subject room to breathe and creates a sense of space.
  • The tree is the main focal point and there is nothing to compete with it.
  • The hills in the background are faded due to the weather conditions (it was raining when I made the photo), adding a sense of depth.
  • I used a long exposure (125 seconds) to blur the water and the leaves of the tree, adding a sense of motion or time passing to the photo.
  • I converted the photo to black and white to create drama.

As you can see there’s much more happening in this photo, from the point of view of composition, than simply placing the tree on a third. Once you understand how these ideas work you can use them in other photos and improve your composition skills at the same time.

Mistake #2: Not including foreground interest

This is a common mistake in landscape photography and some documentary photography. That’s because photographers in these genres often use wide-angle lenses, which usually include lots of foreground detail in the composition.

The idea of foreground interest can be a hard concept to grasp at first but it makes sense when you start to think about it.

For example, I made the following photo with a 14mm lens (a wide-angle on my APS-C camera). I wanted to tell a story about the couple in the market. Using a wide-angle lens helped me include context – the piles of vegetables in the foreground that the couple was selling. The vegetables provide foreground interest and support the story.

Common composition mistakes in photography

The same idea also applies to landscapes made with wide-angle lenses. In the photo below the ruins is the main subject. The flowers in the foreground add interest in the bottom half of the frame.

Common composition mistakes in photography

Mistake #3: Not paying enough attention to the background

Sharp backgrounds are common in documentary styles of photography and can help tell a story about the main subject. For example, in the photo below the main subject is the three men in the photo – the barber, his customer, and the man looking directly at the camera.

Common composition mistakes in photography

The detail in the background supports the main subject and helps tell its story. We can see every detail, from the wall behind the men to the barber’s tools and products. These details are an interesting and important part of the photo.

Sometimes the opposite approach is required and you need to blur the background out to remove distractions. Part of the skill of being a photographer is knowing when to blur the background and when to keep it sharp. In some portraits (like the one below, made with an aperture of f/1.8) you can use a wide aperture to blur the background and remove details that might distract from the model.

Common composition mistakes in photography

The mistake I see photographers make is not thinking about these things and taking enough care to make sure the background suits the subject.

Mistake #4: Not working the subject

The final common composition mistake I see photographers make is failing to work the subject. This means that you take as many photos as you can until you’ve exhausted all the creative possibilities. Sometimes you only need to take three or four photos for this to happen. At other times you may take 20 or 30. Either way, the idea is to explore different viewpoints and compositional possibilities.

The reason this works is that the first point of view you use is not necessarily the best one. If you have the opportunity, it’s a good idea to try different points of view, different focal lengths, and maybe even different aperture and shutter speed settings.

This is where you can think through some of the concepts discussed earlier in the article. A good question to ask yourself is, “How can I make the photo more interesting?”

Perhaps you need to pay more attention to the background. Maybe you need to include some interesting foreground detail. Perhaps the photo would benefit from including some negative space or using a slower shutter speed to blur parts of it. The answers depend on the subject and how much time you have to explore it.

Example of working the scene

Here’s an example. Below you can see four photos I made of an interesting building, each one utilizing a different point of view and composition. They were part of a sequence of 25 photos I made before I felt there was nothing else I could do.

Common composition mistakes in photography

Common composition mistakes in photography

Common composition mistakes in photography

Common composition mistakes in photography

Conclusion

There are many mistakes that it’s possible to make when it comes to the composition in photography, but these are the most common that I’ve seen. What composition mistakes have you seen people make, or are you guilty of making yourself? Please let us know in the comments below.


Mastering Composition Book Two

Want to learn more about composition? Then check out my wildly popular ebook Mastering Composition Book Two. It contains 20 lessons that will help you get better at composition, no matter what your skill level! Use the code DPS20 for a 20% discount on your first order.

The post 4 of the Most Common Composition Mistakes In Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Make Brilliant Black and White Photos with Dramatic Composition

It’s hard to beat the power and drama of good black and white photography. There’s a reason that monochrome has survived and prospered as an artistic medium despite the arrival of color photos. But how do you harness the power of black and white for yourself? The key is in your composition.

The problem with composition is that it’s such a vast topic it’s easy to lose track of the various principles and the ways you can put them into the practice. So let’s keep it simple – I’m going to give you three things you can concentrate on. Put these into practice and you’ll see a dramatic improvement in the composition of your black and white photos!

#1 – Simplicity

Simplified composition helps give your black and white photos more power by focusing attention on the main subject.

How to Make Brilliant Black and White Photos with Dramatic Composition

The above landscape photo is a great example. The composition is about as simple as you can get. It works because I used a neutral density filter and a long shutter speed of 90 seconds to blur the water and clouds. The result is a black and white landscape photo with a minimalist style composition.

This principle also applies to portraiture. Keep the composition simple to focus attention on your model. An easy way to do this is to use a short telephoto lens with an aperture of around f/2.8. Get in close and make sure there are no distractions in the background to pull attention away from the person you’re photographing.

How to Make Brilliant Black and White Photos with Dramatic Composition

#2 – Texture

One of the interesting things about black and white is that it brings out the interesting textures in your subject. You can use this characteristic to make your black and white photos more interesting.

This photo of some old wooden boxes is a good example.

How to Make Brilliant Black and White Photos with Dramatic Composition

There are two interesting things about the composition of this image. First is the pattern created by the repeating shapes of the boxes. Second is the texture of the wood.

The absence of color in black and white helps emphasize texture. You can take it further in post-processing by applying Clarity or other tools designed to bring out texture (such as the Structure sliders in Silver Efex Pro 2).

Texture and contrast

You can take this idea further by using the contrast between smooth and rough surfaces. Some objects are more tactile than others and have lots of texture. Others have very little.

You’ll see this technique used a lot in long exposure photography, where you can take advantage of the juxtaposition between a subject with lots of texture, such as a concrete jetty, and one that has very little, like water blurred by using a neutral density filter and a long exposure. The earlier photo of two rocks is a good example.

Here’s another. I used a shutter speed of 3-minutes to blur the clouds and the water. As a result, there’s a strong contrast between the concrete in the foreground, the jetty in the distance, and the surrounding water and clouds.

How to Make Brilliant Black and White Photos with Dramatic Composition

#3 – Tonal Contrast

Tonal contrast is where you have light tones and dark tones next to each other. Now we’re getting to the heart of black and white photography! This technique is not nearly as effective in color because of the way that colors that are similar in tone, such as red and green, still create a powerful contrast. Tonal contrast is the main factor that separates black and white photography from color.

The easiest way to explain how tonal contrast works is with some examples.

In the first (below) there’s a strong tonal contrast between the white and black stones. Your eyes go to the white stones because they are in the center of the frame and because they provide a strong contrast against the black stones underneath them.

How to Make Brilliant Black and White Photos with Dramatic Composition

Another subject where tonal contrast is used to good effect is portraiture. In the portrait below the model’s light-toned skin contrasts with the dark background. The key to making this technique work is to make sure the background is in shade and that it contains no distracting highlights.

How to Make Brilliant Black and White Photos with Dramatic Composition

So far both examples have shown a light toned subject against a dark background. But you can turn it around by placing a dark subject against a white background.

That’s the technique I used in the following portrait. I photographed the man during carnival in Spain. He was dressed for the occasion and had even painted his face. I placed him against a bright, sunlit building to take advantage of the tonal contrast between his dark skin and the white wall.

How to Make Brilliant Black and White Photos with Dramatic Composition

Conclusion

There are many factors that make up a good black and white photo, but the composition is one of the most important. If you want to make a strong black and white photo, then focusing on these three key factors – simplicity, texture, and tonal contrast – is a great place to start.


Mastering Composition Book Two

Want to learn more about composition? Then check out my wildly popular ebook Mastering Composition Book Two. It contains 20 lessons that will help you get better at composition, no matter what your skill level!

The post How to Make Brilliant Black and White Photos with Dramatic Composition by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Show More with Your Photographs by Thinking Outside the Frame

In its simplest form, a photograph is a representation of a very limited part of space at a very limited point in time. This article is about choosing which tiny bit of reality to represent and how that choice can make a photograph into much more than just a record of time.

01 photography tips thinking outside the frame

The most obvious elements of any photograph are the subject, the foreground, and the background. The light and the time it takes to create the photo are equally essential. In this article, I’ll be focusing on an ingredient which may be less obvious, sometimes even overlooked, but never absent: the frame.

What is the frame?

By frame, I don’t mean a picture frame, but the edges of the photo.

02 photography tips thinking outside the frame

Take a look at the photo above. What’s going on? There’s the subject (a cat) the foreground, a bench, the background (a pink wall) and a branch of some kind. So what does the frame have to do with all this?

The frame of a photograph is what separates the obvious from the inferred. It’s part of why a good photograph means different things to different people because that which is inferred is subjective.

Consider the photograph of the cat again. The cat is about to pounce, which means that there’s something going on outside the frame. Maybe another cat is walking by, or maybe there’s a delicious-looking bird on the ground.

What’s outside the frame is just as important

03 photography tips thinking outside the frame

What is left outside the frame can tell a story of its own or be an essential part of the subject of the photo? By creating tension between the obvious and the inferred you wield a powerful tool to make even better photographs. Every image has a relation to the rest of the world, even though the immediate surroundings aren’t obvious or don’t seem to add anything.

04 photography tips thinking outside the frame

So how do you start thinking outside the frame?

I will show you a few examples so you get the idea.

1 – Make it obvious

The obvious way is to make it clear that there is something outside the frame that isn’t being shown. The easiest way to do this is to capture an interesting gaze or photograph a detail.

05 photography tips thinking outside the frame

In the image above, the groom is not looking at the camera, but towards something more interesting outside the frame. For those who recognize the setting, it may be obvious that he is looking towards the church door, which will soon reveal the bride; for others, the interpretation could be different.

06 photography tips thinking outside the frame

These photos show a part of something larger. The hands suggest a person, and might even reveal something about that person. The spiraling tree creates a looping line that continues outside the frame.

2 – Tie the subject to the setting

The scene inside the frame can be tied to a larger setting without the subject directly or indirectly touching the frame. This can make the subject seem large or small, create an open or claustrophobic feeling, or give the surroundings a sense of continuity.

07 photography tips thinking outside the frame

Take a look at the photo above. By surrounding a tiny subject with a single, strong color, that color almost always feels like it continues on and on. In this picture, does it give you a sense of comfort or claustrophobia?

08 photography tips thinking outside the frame

The idea with the photo above is somewhat similar, but the feeling of it is quite different. Here is a playful animal in its seemingly limitless element, suggesting unlimited enjoyment. Or do you see something quite different?

3 – Use pattern or rhythm

By using a pattern or rhythm in the photo, you can create an effect that allows the viewer to imagine infinity. The idea is the same as in the example above, but the execution and effect are different. Here, the pattern or rhythm itself can be the subject, and it’s that subject that leads the viewer outside the frame.

09 photography tips thinking outside the frame

The pattern of cracked sea ice works like a block of color. But since it’s more interesting than just a single color, it can stand by itself and let the eye wander through the details in the photo and the mind continue beyond.

10 photography tips thinking outside the frame

A seascape like the one in the image above can suggest an infinitely large ocean just by showing an unbroken horizon. The ocean doesn’t only continue into the photo, though, it also continues sideways and beyond the edges of the photo. The rhythm of the clouds emphasizes this illusion.

4 – Reflections

Reflections are also an effective way of suggesting a wider world outside the constraints of the photograph. It’s a more direct way of pointing to the wider context.

11 photography tips thinking outside the frame

Concrete walls can suggest many things, but thanks to the reflection in the window it becomes quite clear that the photo is not taken in a concrete jungle, but in a verdant and sunny place. Reading the expression on the subject’s face becomes quite different thanks to the wider context.

Conclusion

Photography is always about choices, conscious or not. The more photography you do, the more deliberate your choices will become. Being aware of this gives you more control over your creative process. The creative decisions you can make based on those choices is what makes photography art.

How you frame your photographs is just one of the things to keep in mind when you photograph.

Do you pay attention to what you leave out when you take a photo? Do you have any examples or thoughts you’d like to share about how you’ve used the frame and what’s beyond as an element in your photography? I’d love to hear about it and see your photos in the comments below.

The post How to Show More with Your Photographs by Thinking Outside the Frame by Hannele Luhtasela-el Showk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images

Drawing the viewer’s attention to the main subject in your photographs will help them understand your story more clearly. If you have a busy scene with no clear focus point it will possibly give your viewers an overall idea of what you were photographing, but they may not scrutinize it for long. Adding a clear center of attention will help you create better storytelling images.

How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images

Particularly when you are photographing a locality with a lot going on you can seek to isolate or draw the viewer’s eye to one main subject within your composition. By using this technique, you can develop a style which may become easily recognizable in your photographs.

Lessons from documentary photography

I first learned to make photographs like this while working as a newspaper photographer. My task was to illustrate and support the journalist’s story with my pictures. Making photos that compelled people to stop and look was always my priority. We wanted people to take notice, look at the photo, and read the story.

Photos of broad, general scenes will not achieve this so well as people will typically just flick past them.

How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images

Creating a photo essay to tell of your travel experience, an event you attended, a parade, etc., you will be aiming to convey what you saw and how you felt to best engage your audience. By creating a series of images where you have focused in on one main subject in each image you can build an overall illustration communicating to the viewer what it was like to be there. That is storytelling at its best.

How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images

Techniques

There are various techniques you can use to draw attention to one part of your composition. Using a shallow depth of field to isolate is one method. Using the contrast in light between your subject and the background, and various composition methods you can obtain pleasing results.

Play with the background

All of the photos I am using to illustrate this article are from a street parade in Chiang Mai, Thailand. With a lot of people, often cluttered backgrounds, and no real control or means of setting up photos, it’s a challenging situation in which to shoot.

How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images

Finding a dark background to help isolate your subject is not always so easy, but when you can it will produce some great photos. In this photo of the boy playing a large drum, I positioned myself so the background was totally in shadow and therefore underexposed.

This has achieved isolation of my main subject and you easily focus your attention on him. My timing to capture a smile and interesting positioning of his drumstick also helped. On its own though, this photograph does not do much to illustrate the parade and environment.

How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images

Coming in close to the French horn player (with a 35mm lens on a full frame camera and a wide aperture) I was able to isolate him and at the same time convey more information about his activity and location. Making him the center of attention and at the same time leaving him in context helps tell the story.

Had I used a longer lens it would have included less background and it may have been even more blurred, further distorting the detail and therefore the context of the story would be lost.

Using compositional elements

How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images

Using different composition methods such as framing or converging lines you can help draw your viewer’s attention to your chosen subject.

Often during our workshops, I find people want to include too much in their photos. I encourage them to include less and take more photos build up a story that way.

While it is good practice to create a photo essay which has a varied selection of wide, medium and close-up photos, trying to capture too much of what’s in front of you can often produce rather uninteresting photographs. Bringing one part of your composition to the foreground as the center of attention is a more effective means of holding a viewer’s focus.

How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images

Single or multiple photos

At the newspaper most often each story was accompanied by a single photograph. So the challenge was to produce one image supporting the narrative of the story. Not always so easy, especially with an event like a parade.

I often encourage people to photograph as if they are shooting to cover a story for a magazine. The aim being to come away with a series of photographs that together will tell the story of their experience. To finish up with 6-10 photos having a clear center of interest in each one and conveying the overall experience of the day.

How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images

If you produce a small collection of photos most social media and photo sharing sites have means to display them together in an album or gallery so it’s a great way for you to share your stories and your experiences.

Your turn

You can see some of these tips in action in the video below. Please share your tips and thoughs on creating more storytelling images by having a center of attention in the comments below.

The post How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images by Kevin Landwer-Johan appeared first on Digital Photography School.

A Fresh Look at Learning Photographic Composition

Popular teaching about photographic composition says to learn the rules and then break them. I prefer to encourage the people who join our photography workshops to learn the rules, understand them well and put them into practice so frequently they become second nature.

If you can apply the rules without even consciously thinking about them you will create more dynamic, interesting photographs which convey more feeling.

A Fresh Look at Learning Photographic Composition

Why do we have rules?

Rules are important as they are the underlying structure of composition. Much like scales are to musicians. Much like grammar is to language.

Successful musicians have typically spent long hours going over and over the same scales until they know them so well they do not need to think about them. When we learned our first language, our “mother tongue”, we never consulted the textbooks to study the grammatical structure of the language, we just absorbed it, (most frequently from our mothers.)

A Fresh Look at Learning Photographic Composition

Some people will have more difficulty learning the rules of composition and applying them effectively than others. Very much like some people can learn to play musical instruments or learn new languages easier.

I think it is because we are all creatively gifted in different ways. If you are gifted with a visual creativity you may find it easier to compose photographs than say someone who is gifted with a musical creativity and finds it easy to play the guitar or trumpet for example.

A Fresh Look at Learning Photographic Composition

I do like what the famous American photographer Edward Weston had to say about learning and implementing the rules of composition:

“Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravity before going for a walk.”

I doubt any of us can recall studying the law of gravity before we learned to walk. But we certainly knew about it.

A Fresh Look at Learning Photographic Composition

Know them at a subconscious level

Knowing the rules is important as they will help guide our creative thinking, but applying these rules rigidly will generally lead towards making rather static and lifeless photographs. As you learn the rules and know them so well you can incorporate them into your photographs intuitively you will find your images may take on a whole new dynamic. Very much like walking and talking, it’s good to be subconsciously aware of the rules and laws as they are there for good reason.

A Fresh Look at Learning Photographic Composition

Practice constantly

Reading about and studying the rules of composition will help you gain a good understanding of them. Practicing them frequently is the most effective means of consistently integrating them into your photographs. Practice them even when you don’t have your camera with you.

Begin to see in the rule of thirds, discover leading lines and strong diagonals, look for frames and how you can use symmetry. One side effect of seeing like this will likely be that you start taking your camera everywhere with you.

Fill the frame

When I first started working in the photography department of a newspaper it was impressed upon me to “fill the frame”. This encouragement has stuck with me and I am aware, consciously or subconsciously, of wanting to effectively achieve this with every photograph I make. This was important in the newspaper in order to convey the story effectively, (and so sub-editors had less flexibility to horribly crop your photos).

A Fresh Look at Learning Photographic Composition

Filling your frame does not mean that in every photo your subject must be pressed out to the edges of your viewfinder. It means however you are choosing to compose your photograph, make sure whatever is within the four corners and edges is relevant to the picture you are making.

A Fresh Look at Learning Photographic Composition

If empty space is relevant and adds to your composition, use it well. If cropping in so tight that part of your subject is cut off makes a stronger image, then crop tight.

However you decide to compose your image, be happy with it. Don’t get hung up on the rules. But do have a solid understanding of them and explore how you like to incorporate them into the creative photographs you are making. And, if you so come up with any new rules, please do let me know!

Here’s a little video talking about this concept of composition.

The post A Fresh Look at Learning Photographic Composition by Kevin Landwer-Johan appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Video Tips: Composition Dos and Don’ts For Creating Better Images

How you compose or arrange your frame is one of the keys to creating interesting and compelling images. So learning some composition rules, and when to break them is essential.

Here are three short videos to help you see what to do and what to avoid in your composition.

Composition Mistakes to Avoid

Learn what not to do in this video including:

  • Double subjects
  • Looking out of the frame
  • Tangents (lines cutting through the subject)
  • Lazy composition

Beginner’s guide to composition

In this second video, Jordan from Sleeklens gives you four tips you can use to help elevate your photography composition.

The four tips covered include:

  1. Rule of thirds
  2. Balance
  3. Symmetry
  4. Leading Lines

9 Composition Tips

Finally, in this last video from COOPH you will see nine more composition tips based on the images of master photographer, Steve McCurry.

Do you have any other composition tips you would like to share? Please do so in the comments section below.

The post Video Tips: Composition Dos and Don’ts For Creating Better Images by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Use the Background to Create More Storytelling Images

Sometimes you’re so focused on capturing the moment that you forget to pay attention to what’s in the background of your photo. When you look at your photos later, you realize that there are all sorts of distractions in the background. One way to overcome these distractions is to use the background to help with storytelling in your photo.

Even though “the moment” is likely the most important part of your photo, good moments always happen in a place. Use the background to show where your moment or story takes place.

Think of People as Characters

The first thing I recommend is thinking of the people in your photo as characters. When you’re going to take a picture of somebody ask, “Who is this character and what are they doing?” When you answer these questions you’ll be able to choose a good background to help tell that story.

Storytelling background 15

This is a photo of my son. I wasn’t thinking of him merely as my son, but rather as a “hiker.” Thinking of him as a hiker helped me choose a background that portrayed the story of a hiker.

Two Ways to Choose a Background

There are two ways to choose a background for your photo.

  1. You can begin with your character and then choose the right background for them.
  2. Or, you can begin with a good background and then look for a character to put into the scene.

Finding a Background that Matches Your Character

Keep in mind the two questions to ask yourself; “Who is this character and what are they doing?”

In this photo, the character is my infant son and he is sleeping in a carrier on my wife’s back. It’s a cute picture, but there is no way to tell from the background where we were when this took place.

Storytelling background 01

This is a nice photo, but the background doesn’t add to the story.

We were on a camping trip and I knew I wanted a collection of photos that would show that. So I repositioned myself to find a better perspective and show the camp trailer in the background. This added a sense of place to the photo.

Storytelling background 02

The camp trailer in the background adds context to the photo of the sleeping infant.

Later on that summer it came time to chop wood for the winter. My little guy wanted to help daddy!

Naturally, I wanted a photo of him trying to chop wood. Depending on the perspective I chose there could have been trees, water, or a wood pile in the background. Since this is a photo about chopping wood, I chose to have the woodpile in the background.

There is even some wood in the foreground, reminding me of what a big job we had that summer!

Storytelling background 03

The huge pile of wood is a natural background for the little wood chopper. Plus it emphasizes how small he is comparatively.

Next time you’re about to snap a photo of somebody, stop and consider your background. Can you move around in order to get a good background to help with storytelling?

Finding a Character to Fit the Background

There may be times when you want to photograph an interesting scene but feel that there is something missing. Perhaps it is the character that is missing. When you come across an interesting scene, go ahead and photograph it. But also wait and allow that scene to become a background for some interesting characters.

When we visited Halls Harbour in Nova Scotia, the rugged shoreline was an obvious feature to photograph. I experimented with different angles and perspectives, but I knew I needed some good characters in the scene. Finally, a couple with their dog came walking down the shoreline. When the man began skipping stones out into the water I knew that these were the characters I was awaiting.

Storytelling background 04

These people and their dog were the perfect additions to the rugged shoreline.

Instead of just a photo of a beautiful landscape, this has become a story about a family on an adventure. To me, skipping stones into the water is a nostalgic sort of moment, so I decided this story looked best in black and white.

Make a story

When the tide was low we could walk out into the harbor amongst the ships that were now resting on the ground. Again, this was an interesting scene that just seemed to be missing a character. Then my son came tip-toeing through the mud and became the perfect character to fit the scene.

Storytelling background 05

When I let my imagination carry me away, I pretend that my son has pulled the plug in the harbor and all the water has drained out. He better sneak away before he gets caught!

Using framing

On a trip to Niagara Falls, we ducked into a building to get some relief from the cold wind and mist from the falls. Through the windows, we could see the falls and a rainbow that was produced through the mist. I wanted to take a photo but waited until my kids went and stood in the window. This allows the falls and rainbow to make up the background while my kids are the characters in the scene.

Storytelling background 06

The characters in the foreground allow the viewer’s attention to be drawn to the falls and rainbow in the background.

Plan ahead

In these next two examples, I used our house as a background for the photo. We were getting ready to move in the spring and I knew we needed a few more photos, by which to remember this old house. So I was determined to use our house as a setting and photograph more scenes with it in the background.

That winter, we built a snow hill nearly as tall as the house itself. That was a perfect opportunity to photograph an exciting event with our home in the background.

Storytelling background 07

A low angle helped to capture this epic moment right in our front yard. The snow hill towers in front of the house in the background.

Storytelling background 08

Our kids will always remember their first childhood home (and the fun they had there) when they look back on these photos.

Next time you come across a nice scene, go ahead and photograph the scene by itself. Once you have done this, you can look for a character to add to the scene, allowing it to become a background for their story. This is a perfect approach for both landscape and street photography. Choose the background and then wait for the character to come along.

Symbolic Backgrounds

So far, all of the backgrounds in these photos have been literal scenes. But you can use a background to give your story some symbolic meaning as well. You do this by finding a background that makes you think deeper than the literal object itself. For example, a sunset in the background isn’t just about the sun, perhaps it’s about “romance” or “a happy ending.”

In this example, my wife is tying up vines in a vineyard. This is a job that needs to be done in the spring before any green actually appears on the vines. There really wasn’t anything nice near her to use as a background, except golden light from the setting sun.

To me, vineyards are about long days of outdoor work, and the romance of shared wine. The warm setting sun was the perfect symbolic background to express these feelings.

Storytelling background 09

The golden sun in the background of this photo is symbolic of the day’s end, and the romance of wine and vineyards.

When you’re photographing a character doing something interesting, ask yourself if there is anything in the background that adds symbolic meaning to what they’re doing.

I have lots of photos of my kids reading books. The following photo is an example of a very boring background that does not help to tell a story.

Storytelling background 10

This background is distracting. The bed leg is growing out of their shoulders and pulls our attention away from what the kids are doing.

You can come up with some great backgrounds for people reading books. A library or a coffee shop would be two good choices for your background. But these are obvious choices and perhaps you could choose a symbolic background instead. Think about the nature of reading and how a person grows as they learn.

Storytelling background 11

This is exactly the sort of place that many people would sit and read a book. There is something about old leather chairs that invite you to nestle in and read. Behind the chair is a wood grain wall. Wood is something that grows. Wood is symbolic of the “growth” that happens when a child learns and reads.

Keep your eye open for backgrounds that are symbolic of the story you want to tell.

Using the Background to Tell a Story in Multiple Photos

When you find a good background, go ahead and use it in different ways to expand on your story.

The following photos are all from Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick. Every tourist who has ever been there, walks away with the same photos from the same perspectives, so I challenged myself to come away with something different. I wanted photos of the rocks, so I used them as the background for the scene and then waited for interesting characters to come along.

The first thing I noticed was lots of tourists rushing around snapping pictures of the rocks. They were always getting in the way of the photo I was taking, so I gave up and took pictures of them instead.

Storytelling background 12

I like how this tourist blends into the rocks. As they reached out their arms to take a photo, their arms mimicked the circle shapes in the rocks.

Two-year-olds are notoriously difficult to photograph. I wanted to take a photo of my daughter with the rocks in the background. But all she wanted to do was chew on saltwater stones. She had been doing this on our entire trip. We were constantly telling her to get the rocks out of her mouth.

Storytelling background 13

If you’re going to photograph a two-year-old, you might just as well photograph her doing what she loves. And what better background for her photo than the massive rocks?

The tide was rising quickly and would soon cover the massive rock formations. In our last moments there something spectacular happened. A park ranger made his own rock formation by balancing several odd shaped rocks on each other.

Storytelling background 14

What a contrast between the massive Hopewell Rocks and the man-made formation. The force of the tide eroded one set of rocks over a long period of time and will quickly topple the rocks that have been so carefully balanced by the ranger.

When you stick with a scene long enough wonderful things happen and your mind will find symbolic meaning that you otherwise might have missed.

You’ll Enjoy Your Photos More When Your Background Adds to the Story

Don’t let your backgrounds be a disappointing afterthought. Instead, consider how the background in your photo can add storytelling elements to your character.

Remember the steps:

  • When you’re going to take a picture of somebody, first ask yourself, “Who is this character and what are they doing?” When you answer these questions you’ll be able to choose a good background for storytelling.
  • You can choose a background for your character, or find a good background and wait for the perfect character to come along.
  • Try using backgrounds to give symbolic meaning to your photos.
  • Use the background in different ways over several photos.

When you pay attention to the background your photos will become less sloppy and more meaningful. Please share some of your images with storytelling backgrounds in the comments below.

The post How to Use the Background to Create More Storytelling Images by Mat Coker appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

Photographers have long developed different classifications to pair with the design and execution of a photograph – lines, shape, texture, light, framing, contrast, just to name a few. For example, leading lines appeal to a viewer’s natural tenancy to trace line into a photograph. Sharp lines are used to grab attention and organic lines create a peaceful atmosphere.

Other composition techniques like the Rule of Thirds require a photographer to mentally break down an image to evaluate balance. Low and high perspective alter the way a viewer sees the world and symmetrical/asymmetrical elements highlights the quirky beauty of life. The technique we’ll have a quick look in this article, demonstrates the power of framing, especially in an urban environment.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

What is framing?

Framing in photography creates a self-contained image, like a photo-within-a-photo effect. As photographers, we are used to seeing the world through the frame of a viewfinder. We constantly evaluate what we’ll keep in an image and what we’ll exclude. We deliberately apply perspective, aim, zoom and positioning techniques to construct our photographs – sometimes without even noticing.

By cradling the subject in a balance of space and line, a frame is created, not dissimilar to the photo frames you’d find on your shelf at home.  Essentially, you are crafting a frame within a frame to deliberately bring focus to a subject, adding narrative and the unique experience of voyeurism that photography affords.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

How do I frame a photograph?

For such an effective technique, framing has plenty to offer. It makes use of strong design skills, adding an extra layer to an image to create more depth.  Framing can also be used to obscure more mundane areas of a scene, boosting the efficacy of a photograph when viewed by others.

Composing an image by making use of framing is fairly straightforward. Start out searching for windows and doors as they are the most abundant frames in an urban environment. You’ll find that windows and doors, when photographed, contain their own little ecosystem within the one image. This is great for capitalizing on both content and narrative, almost like reading a window in a comic strip!

Frame shapes

Square or rectangular frames are probably the first things that leap to mind when someone considers framing. Doorways and windows are a great way for emphasizing a subject or depth, but they are not the only options and framing is not limited to squares or rectangles.

The image below proves how versatile the urban environment can be for artificial framing. The image was taken from the floor of a train station, lens pointed to the floor above. The darkness of the building structure is silhouetted against the blue sky, forming a crescent shape. The frame draws attention to the contrast of the architecture against the sky but also cradles the form of a human passing by.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

This photo was taken by chance in a late night shopping district. The framing of the man emphasizes his presence but also isolates him from the rest of the landscape.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

For this image, I aimed to align a gap in the cage with the cat’s face. The slight distortion caused by the lens draws the center square closer to the viewer’s eye. Framing isn’t always a split-second discovery, taking the time to assess a situation and respond creatively can be just as effective as shooting from the hip.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

Shattered windows in rundown urban landscapes offer beautifully detailed landscapes complemented by an informed framing technique.

Keep it real

Framing can be really effective for highlighting specific areas of a photograph. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not every photograph needs framing. Some images are much more effective when they stand alone. Like most photography, you need to be versatile and trust your instincts.

While lining up a perfect shot through a fence can be effective, make sure to be aware of your surroundings too. Don’t focus so heavily on framing that you sacrifice other photographic opportunities. You don’t need to force a frame on an image, so don’t overthink it. You want natural images that are enhanced by a frame, not poor images that require a frame to garner interest.

Just stay open to the idea of framing and gather enough experience to recognize a framing opportunity when one presents itself. This way, opportunities tend to reveal themselves rather than you having to force them out of hiding.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

The branches of these trees act as a natural frame, sectioning up the image to draw attraction to the cute little bunnies within.

The post How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment by Megan Kennedy appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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