Basic Photography/Composition

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Basic Photo Composition[edit]

Photography is communication and one of the most accessible art medium available. Since nearly everyone owns a camera and has taken lots of photos mostly documenting family, friends, pets, property, travel, and hobbies, many still feel they can't take a good photo. Considering the thousands of professional photos, as well as hundreds of hours of TV, that everyone has seen where good composition is always present, it's surprising so many poor photos are taken. For those who wish to improve slightly past the pallid and mundane, consider these simple points:

The #1 amateur error: Bullseyeing, putting main subjects directly in the center of the frame such as faces, horizons, etc.[edit]

Moving the main subject off center takes a wee bit of forethought but it's well worth the effort. Most photography and videography follow the classic “golden mean” which divides the “frame”, viewfinder or monitor, approximately into thirds vertically and horizontally (think tic-tac-toe grid). Main subjects and points of interest are best placed at or near the intersection of the lines. In scenics, place horizon either above or below but not through center.

The #2 amateur error: Not close enough.[edit]

Allowing too much in the view, such as legs and feet in portraits or group shots makes your subject too far away and small while including more distracting background. A famous quote states: If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough! Think about composing from the hips up, or better waist up. Most people hold their camera horizontally and almost never think to turn it vertically. A general rule: take portraits of one person (or pet) vertically and two or more horizontally, along with the idea of “filling the frame” as professional photographers know it, will bring out intimate, powerful photos.

The #3 amateur error: Distracting backgrounds.[edit]

Using the portrait setting on point and shoot cameras or, on SLR's, using the larger apertures (the smaller numbers) allows the background to go out of focus and hold interest in your main subject. Also watch for poles, trees, etc. coming out of your subject's head or torso.

The #4 amateur error: Little or no depth, giving flattened perspective from minimal apparent separation between subjects.[edit]

The most common method is to include foreground such as close, aesthetically pleasing, rocks or flowers “anchoring” the photo. Tip: Eliminate flat subjects and “see” like your camera by closing or covering one eye. You'll notice how much easier it is to watch for clues and angles that suggest depth and counter flat lighting and busy subjects that meld into a confusing mess.