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Photographers often ask me about the composition of my photographs, and why I settled on composing images in a particular way. I typically respond with the five tips that I was once taught during my early learning stages of photography. Here are some great rules of thumb on how to creatively think about and do composition.
1. Visit a Museum
The basic principles of composition rely on the foundations for providing a pleasing portrait that viewers will enjoy for years to come. I thought about places that would influence people to see composition in every day life, and the museum is one of those places. Some people have a natural talent for art and quickly see all of the elements required for a pleasing image. I, on the other hand, had to spend a lot of time studying other artist’s work—as well as my own. Although I have traveled the world, some of the best exhibits I have seen were in my own city. A lot of museums have traveling displays, where you can see a variety of exciting, new work that will inspire your creativity.
2. Be Creative
Once you understand the basic artistic elements, you can supplement them with other techniques designed to create drama and introduce juxtapositions. Some of these techniques are as simple as turning your camera to create dynamic angles; others require preparation to execute. Whenever you create, keep an eye out for new ways to change your work and develop your eye. The goal is to push yourself and step out of your own comfort zone. I always make it a point to do at least one creative thing in every session that I have never tried. Even on a busy day, I try to push my limits so that I feel like I am evolving all of the time.
3. Understand the Key Elements
Understanding the key elements, especially the creative use of foreground, midground, and background, will assist your artistic endeavor. Simply put, the foreground is the part of an image that falls between the camera and the subject. The midground is where your subject will be found and is usually the point of critical focus. The background is anything beyond the subject. Using these elements to create depth in your image will help draw the viewers eyes into the subject and create balance and harmony throughout the image.
4. Use Your Natural Eye
A leading line is any linear element in the scene—such as a road, tree trunk, river, fence, or elongated shadow—that the eye naturally follows. When an image is carefully composed, these lines lead the viewer’s eye into the frame and toward the subject. This draws people into the image, which also makes choosing your image orientation very important. For instance, if you have a client that mentions she/he would like something above the fireplace, a horizontal image would be appropriate, as opposed to a vertical one.
5. Utilize the Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is one of the most important tools for creating powerful images. If you study art, you will find this rule at work in various great pieces. The rule of thirds states that if you were to draw imaginary lines dividing the image into thirds horizontally and vertically (imagine a tic-tac-toe board superimposed on the frame), important subject areas should fall on the intersections of the lines or along the lines. Overall and although using this rule can create very strong images, sometimes breaking the rule can create dynamic images as well.