The Importance of Composition / by Sophy Nathanail

By Steve Speer

In my experience, there are two elements (and only two) to creating powerful photographic imagery. These are composition and light. Of course there are many other aspects to photography, such as ISO, aperture and shutter speed, but I consider these to be technical requirements and they all serve the purpose of helping to refine and define the composition.

Sometimes composition can be improved “post capture” by cropping and editing in Lightroom or Photoshop (or whatever program the user is familiar with). As I practicing photographer I have always found this method to be less than optimal and my preferred approach is to compose in-camera and use editing software only to enhance the image afterwards.

Photography to me is a slow process and I prefer to use a tripod, especially for landscapes. This method of shooting allows me to slow down and be ‘in the moment’ with my photography. It gives me time to scrutinize the image in the camera viewfinder and to really pay attention to what I’m seeing on the ground glass. I look at the edges of the frame and remove distractions by either zooming in or out on the image or by physically adjusting the camera placement. By composing in camera, I shoot far fewer images which makes me more efficient when I am working in Lightroom after I have returned from a photographic outing. I would much rather have 10 – 15 strong images from a photography session than to have 200 – 300 images which I have to wade through to find the good ones.

My general rules for composition focuses on four things which I learned from a photography workshop by Taz Tally.

These include:

1.Simplicity 2.Asymmetry 3.Sight (eye) lines 4.Point of view

  1. Simplicity; keep the number of image elements in your image to less than 4. Ideally have one primary element as well.
  2. Asymmetry; be aware of the rule of thirds and place your primary image element off of dead center (this rule can be broken when necessary)
  3. Sight lines; be aware of foreground, middle ground and background and know how to adjust depth-of-field to control these. Leading lines control how the viewer engages with your image(s)
  4. Point of view; Scale – large and small, unusual angles. Also, don’t be afraid to kneel or find a higher vantage point

Another major consideration for me is  – Why am I taking this photo? What caught my eye in the image and where do I want the viewer to focus? If you are uncertain about what the focus of the image is don’t shoot it. I often will enjoy a moment without taking a single photo because the light or timing is not right. Use your photography as a vehicle to connect with the world around you. This involves getting past the ‘looking’ stage to really ‘seeing’ and taking the time to think, not just about what you are shooting, but why you are shooting.

Hopefully these tips are helpful . . . happy shooting!

Steve Speer