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Photo composition is the key to the success of your images. There is no point in having a long photo session if the set is not convincing and balanced. This technique, if well-executed, efficiently conveys the message of your photos and facilitates the viewer's understanding of your images.
The term photo composition refers to the organization of the visual elements of your photos taking into account several factors such as texture, contrast, depth of field, the position of the elements, framing plan, among others. In short, all elements that make up your photograph.
The balance between these points is what we call a successful photograph. However, beyond all these theoretical techniques, photographic composition depends mostly on the creativity and sensitivity of the photographer, this is a key point in the whole process.
In addition, the photographic composition also determines the impression made by your photos, composing is not just about showing pretty pictures but about making the viewer fix his attention on the points of interest. In other words, the way you arrange the visual elements in your photos influences the way people will understand the aspects of your photography.
In this topic, you will discover many useful tips and information that you need to know about photo composition and how to execute it in the best possible way.
There are a few rules that can help in the photo composition. In fact, the word "rule" should not be read literally. Every photographer must know when to follow a rule and when not to. It is advantageous to know these basic rules and especially to test them. Then you can decide whether or not to use them at the moment you are photographing.
The Rule of Thirds
In an imaginary way, divide the image observed in your phone screen into three parts, both horizontal and vertical.
The Rule Of Thirds Grid
The four points of intersection, called points of interest, are the points of greatest visual impact in your photo. When photographing, place the main subject and other subjects of interest at this point or along the lines.
The intersections of these imaginary lines suggest 4 options for the placement of the center of interest for a good composition. The choice depends on the subject and how the photographer wants it to be shown. Usually, photos with centered subjects, tend to have a more static and less interesting character than photos with the subject off-center. You can also apply the "Rule of Thirds" to the placement of the horizon line in your photo because the horizon line dividing the photo in half gives a sense of static. The same is true for vertical subjects. These points where these lines cross are called: Gold Points.
The Golden Rule
Across the internet, you will find many references mixed up: "Golden Rule" and "Rule of Thirds" treated as if they were the same thing. But these are just approximations that sometimes are treated as the same. The famous "Rule of the Thirds" is a simplification of "The Golden Spiral". Many people confuse it, thinking it is the same thing, but it is not.
Also known as "Golden Ratio" or "Divine Proportion", is a much older rule than the one mentioned above, its use dates back even before photography was invented, as in the architecture of ancient Greece or in the works of great geniuses of humanity, such as Boticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. It uses a number sequence created by the Italian Leonardo Fibonacci at the end of the 12th century, which, when geometrically arranged, traces a spiral in such a perfect and organic way that we can see it represented in various places in nature, such as in the shell of a snail, in the movement of plant growth, etc.
From this sequence, we extract the transcendental number known as the "golden number" also known mathematically as Phi (1.618).
The Golden Spiral or Fibonacci Spiral
Following this spiral model to frame our image, we will have a more natural, organic, less "square" photograph, and much more pleasing to the human eye. For these reasons, many of today's great photographers combine this "golden rule" with other photographic tricks to compose their images.
In other words, instead of centering the focus of our photo between the spaces proposed in the "Rule of Thirds", we should assemble our image in such a way that the beginning of the spiral represents the main focus of the image and as the spiral unfolds, other objects are "revealed" to compose the photo.
The result turns out to be very similar to drawing an imaginary spiral, but can be more difficult to imagine than using the "Rule of Thirds".
To apply the Fibonacci ratio to a photo in an easy way, you simply apply something that is very similar to the "Rule of Thirds": a grid divided into 3 parts. The difference is that instead of having the grid divided into 3 equal parts, it will be divided into 1+ 0.618 + 1. This lesser-known grid is called the Phi Grid.
The Phi Grid
If you chose the Phi Grid, the place subject is closer to the center of the image compared to the grid of the "Rule of Thirds". A Fibonacci ratio is an excellent tool, it helps a lot to create more original photos, and it makes a photograph look really different; by the way, this should never be seen as a small variant of the "Rule of Thirds", because in reality, this difference can make that you naturally like a photo.
When to center the theme?
There are some situations where putting the subject in the center of the image works well.
For example in the following situations:
When photographing a person, animal, or insect close-up, there is no harm in placing the subject in the center. It's up to the photographer's choice and works well, especially when the subject is looking front.
In macro shots where the subject fills almost the entire visual field, we can also place it in the middle.
Frames in Frames
Frames within other frames are an artifice often exploited in photography. Not only do they focus the viewer's attention on the subject, they often suggest a broader context in relation to the subject. The colors may also provide clues as to the photographer's intent.
They also serve other purposes, for example, the technique can be a way to hide distracting foreground details, it is also a way to help create a sense of depth in the image.
The symmetrical composition signifies solidity, stability, and strength, and is also effective in organizing images with elaborate details. One of the strategies offered by a symmetrical presentation is the simplicity of the elements of a theme. We can find symmetry and patterns in everything, both natural and artificial. They can make photography very attractive especially in situations where they are not expected. Symmetry usually brings simplicity to photography and this is highly valued. The rule of symmetry is not always the best choice for a composition, as every rule in photography you must know when to use it, and sometimes breaking symmetry or pattern, introducing tension and a focal point to the scene, is also a good photographic technique.
The key is not only to know the rule but also when to use it.
Radial compositions convey a sense of life, even if the subject is static, that is, they are those in which the main elements spread out from the middle of the image. These types of compositions seek an image movement from where objects start from the center of the image and spread out through it. Automatically, this brings life to the photo, even if the objects are stopped.
Because in photography we can only see two dimensions of the image, it is essential to find a way to give the original or created image a sense of depth.
Overlapping elements serve to define which elements are in the foreground and which are in the background, thus increasing the sense of depth and perspective, as well as inviting contrasts in the subject.
We can also create depth in a photo by including objects in the several planes of the image. Another useful technique is the overlapping composition, where you deliberately partially obscure one object with another. The human eye naturally recognizes these layers and mentally separates them, creating an image with more depth.
Perspective is an important procedure for creating the sensation of photographic three-dimensionality. Through linear perspective, one can lead the interest to the main element guiding the observer's attention. To do this, we must consider the types of lines:
The horizontal composition in an image is a wide and narrow framing that suits certain subjects and leads the eye through the lines towards the subject. Usually, the horizontal component is used to convey stability and/or rest. If you want to convey calmness and tranquility in your photos make compositions horizontally and always keep the subject on the right side of the image by making the eyes run from left to right.
In landscape photos, the imaginary lines that divide the horizontal thirds serve as guides to situate the horizon and can be used as lines of emphasis. As we position the horizon on the line of the lower or upper third, we place the emphasis on the sky or on the ground.
It is usually better to keep a single strong horizontal line in the top or bottom third of the image, rather than placing it right in the middle. Avoid tilting the camera toward the line that appears at horizon level. I know this sounds obvious, but just a slight distraction can ruin a photo.
Unlike a horizontal composition, a vertical composition is a tall, narrow composition that highlights a vertical panorama. Vertical lines have the power to convey a huge variety of information in a photograph ranging from loftiness (in the sense of being very tall/majestic) and strength (think of a skyscraper), to growth and development (think of trees). If we want to emphasize size or depth, vertical lines are a great alternative.
Another option is to break the previous rule and use horizontal framing to frame vertical subjects and emphasize the content of the photo. However, it is important to note that you should make the vertical lines as parallel as possible with the sides of the photo. Also be careful when composing your photos not to direct all attention to the top of the image, especially when the subject is not there. And there is another alternative, which is to place the subject in the center of the lines, as this will decrease the likelihood of people losing focus on the subject.
Remember the "Rule of the Third" when photographing vertical lines. However, if you want to give an idea of contrast or division, place them in the middle of the photo to give more impact and generate a kind of segmentation in the photographs. Look out for vertical lines that create a "pattern" in the image and use them to generate a great impact on your photos - especially if they are combined with other shapes, colors, and lines with different directions.
Remember, vertical lines direct the eyes to read the scene upwards and/or downwards, and in both cases, the sensations conveyed are different (feeling of exaltation or oppression).
The diagonal lines lead the eye from one part of the image to another and convey greater energy, dynamism, and movement, and create a path that leads our gaze from one corner of the image to the other. The first point for framing is the question of whether the image should be made vertical or horizontal. Most people tend to always take pictures with the camera in the same position and stationary subject in the center of the image makes a photograph ordinary and uninteresting, so an image with parallel lines to the sides of the frame is a lifeless or ordinary photograph, but there are times when the composition demands it.
Diagonal lines usually work on the vision of the person viewing the image. They create points of interest when they intersect with other lines and can also convey a sense of perspective in photos. But when it comes to adding a sense of action and dynamics to the photo they are perfect.
It has been proven in studies that the way people normally look at images (the natural way) is from left to right and diagonally starting at the bottom left and moving their eyes to the top right. Of course, this does not mean that you need to split your image in two with a line from corner to corner, but try to compose the photo with other objects and patterns to make your photos as natural as possible.
If you want to add a dramatic look to your photo, look for a way to include a diagonal line. Mentally draw a line from one corner to the other, and look for some element that follows this line. The line should intersect the subject of your photo at some point. This will make your photo more dynamic and add energy to the scene as if it were "pulling" the viewer into it. Use lines from objects or nature to guide the viewer's eyes to the main point, such as a road or a river, or the wires of a lamppost.
Whenever we photograph with lines that converge to a single point, a notion of three-dimensionality and depth emerges in the image. Diagonal lines in different directions with intersections between them can give an idea of action in your photos, but if we overdo it with too many lines we can make the photo look polluted and confusing.
A technique often used in portrait and landscape photography where diagonal lines prevail, the golden triangle consists of drawing a diagonal line from one end of the frame to the other and, with a second line, finding the point of interest in the image.
The Golden Triangle
The diagonal line represents the dynamism of the image and, when it meets the second line, the point of interest is formed.
The photographed motifs can come in all shapes and sizes, but often it is the simplest shapes that are found in photographic composition and those that have the greatest visual interest. Circles produce harmony in an image, and if we include a dominant round shape in a composition, we can find that it not only immediately attracts attention, but our view is hardly abstracted from it.
Usually in the circle composition, we find one subject in the center, wrapped around another, the perfect symmetry of circles cannot conflict with other angles of the frame itself, so it can be included in almost any frame without harming the image.
Shadows can sometimes hide important details, making it necessary for the photographer to reduce these dark areas in the photo. There are times when the shadows themselves can become a motif, indeed, these are an important part of many photos. A shadow allows us to see an image in a different way, the size and visibility of the shadow of the subject depend on the angle of the existing light.
When photographing shadows, the most common method is to frame the image so that the subject and shadow create a symmetrical composition, but a more used step is to frame the image so that the shadow itself is the center of attention. It is in the shadows projected by illuminated objects, and it is in the balance between the luminous parts and the dark areas, that the success of a photograph often lies. Shadows and their gradations within chiaroscuro play a very important role in a photographic composition.
A strong shadow can add great effect and emotional charge to a photograph. As a compositional element, it can be used to draw attention to and highlight subjects. You can distort the shadow to create more impact and drama. Play with patterns (textures), shadows are also a great element in the composition that can be used to add contrast with bright colors. It can even help to highlight elements from each other through the use of black. Shadows can also add depth to flat walls or spaces and bring enhancements to small details.
Make use of shadows to highlight subjects. Use the lines they create as well as the contrast. Stronger, more contrasted and sharply angled shadows add to the emotional charge of the photo, while less heavy, more rounded and less contrasted shadows transport you to a calmer environment.
The background is just as important as the main subject. A dirty background loaded with too many elements "causes noise" and diverts attention away from the main subject and can kill a photo.
Look for a background that highlights the subject to be photographed. A good tip is to get closer to the subject and control the aperture of the lens to allow more blur in the background, this will highlight the main subject of the photo.
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