Photography Tip: Improving your Composition

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So you got your lovely new camera and you are off to take some amazing shots. By now, especially if you have done our level 1 course at LSP, using the camera in manual mode should be a cinch and you would have experimented with shutter speeds, apertures and ISO.

Last month’s photography tip was about the elements of design and how to use geometry, lines, textures and form to add more spice to your photography. But one of the fundamental parts of photography is composition, part of our Level 2 course.

Without getting too much in-depth, here are a few tips to improve your photos, as I was taught by my editors and colleagues through the years.

  • Fill your frame with what you want to photograph. We all did it. We want to show the Parthenon or Big Ben or the Pyramids so we tell our partner or our friend to go stand underneath it. What happens then of course is you step back to put the great building in your frame, and your friend ends up looking like a mosquito, or gets lost all together in the crowds that are there also posing for photos. If you want to show a landmark like Big Ben for example and have your friend in the photo as well, simply tell them to come closer to you and put them to one side of the frame, so that you can show the building behind. Don’t forget to use smaller apertures (higher f-stops) to make sure everything is in focus

  • The rule of thirds. Putting your subject, bang in the middle of your frame is simply boring, and you end up blocking what’s behind them, like in the example above with Big Ben. Instead, visually divide your frame into two horizontal and vertical lines so that you have nine cubes. Put your subject where the lines meet to make a more visually pleasing image.
  • Simplify things. We humans get easily distracted, so the less interference there is in your photos the better. Strangers’ hands and feet entering your frame, busy backgrounds with a lot of cars and people can be annoying. Isolate your subject either by zooming in or by using a shallower depth of field.
  • Balance your frame. Look for matching or complimenting colours that could make an otherwise boring street sign for instance look interesting.

  • Avoid chopping off feet and ankles.
  • Change your angle of view. Get down on your knees, or shoot from below or above the subject, depending on what you are photographing. For children, make sure you get down to their eye level. If you are using a wide angle lens and you photograph a child looking down on them, you will end up with a photo of a gigantic head and tiny feet.
  • Experiment with different lenses for different effects. Renting out lenses in London is easy, so why not give your dream lens a shot?
  • Use the elements of design we spoke about in our previous article.

And finally, keep your eyes open! While I was shooting a story for AFP I found myself in the herding scenario, where all the photographers seem to follow one another and shoot the same thing. As I was shooting, I felt someone grab the top of my head and turn it away from where everyone was looking. It was a good friend of mine who simply said to me, “If all the photographers are looking in one direction, make sure that nothing is happening in the other directions.” That is so true, and it happens to all of us. You can miss so many amazing moments by being stuck in a herd and shuffling along clicking like a madman.

While teaching tourists in Italy in 2013, I discovered that the same applied to them. They were being rushed along the streets of Florence huddled together and snapping away as if the city would be gone in an instant. If you find yourself in a similar situation, stop. Take a deep breath and even break away from the group for a while and just take the time to take in the amazing places you are visiting. No one sees the world the way you do. So why let others do the looking for you? Slow down. Walker Evans once said, “Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” 


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