3 rules of photography: Composition, Composition, Composition!!!

The famous words of business wisdom highlight the most important rule of selling: Location, Location, and Location. I am no MBA, and my number crunching abilities are limited to counting discounts, sales and offers on camera equipment and other gadgets. But what I have learned over the past few years as a hobby photographer can be easily summarized in one single word: composition.

Composition basically means: “what are the elements you choose to be in the frame telling the viewer” .With the arrival of automatic cameras and digital photography, not much has been left to the skills of the photographer. Softwares give us unlimited chances to correct our mistakes , right from lighting to contrast, from adding a wonderful background to removing  your ex girlfriend from the picture and what not. This is good news and bad. The good news is that you don’t need to worry about the many things that you can take care of in the computer. But the bad thing is that now, you have to focus on the bare basics of the art. And its down in the details where you meet the devil.

In today’s reality, the crux of being a good photographer lies in doing those things right, in which photoshop cannot help you. How you frame you picture is the most important of them. The angle you choose, the place of the subject in the frame, the choice of foreground and background, the direction of light, the time of the day, the shutter speed, sharp focus etc are certain things, which if not taken care of, chances are you might never get to click the same wonderful picture again. Or, you might have to start from scratch to get it right.

Watching things in daily life is easy, but when you decide to tell a story in a single picture, even something as limited as the rectangle of the viewfinder can feel like a vast canvas difficult to fill meaningfully. A head chopped here or a shoulder sticking out can turn a very good picture into a waste best suited to recycle bin. I don’t think words can over emphasize the importance of composing a beautiful picture. No amount of Photoshop wizardry can turn a badly composed photo into a good one. The catch is, it’s very easy to go wrong with composition. Something as subtle as a hint of smile missed, an unseen point of view, a rare chain of events ignored can make or break a picture. Hence it takes years of practice and patience to develop that ‘eye’, that way of anticipating events and figuring out the right moment in split second of time and “click” capture the moment.

This whole process of thinking to clicking generally doesn’t take more than a second. But to get it right, is to follow the path of discipline, practice, mistakes, and learning. Here are some exercises that may help you get that “eye” for things faster.

  1. Fix your camera on a particular focal length, say, e.g. 35mm and keep shooting only in those constraints for a week.
  2. Try shooting a particular subject from all possible angles that you can think of, use all 360 deg  of space around the subject, without bothering how funny it may look to a normal person standing next to you J
  3. Enjoy watching/critiquing/remembering pictures of other photographers.
  4. The traditional rules of composition: 1/3rd rule, golden rectangle rule, diagonal rule, etc can help, though not universally applicable. I will not bother explaining you these rules, as they can be easily found over the internet.
  5. Read your camera manual and know it like you know your name and address.
  6.      Avoid common mistakes like tilting the camera to one side.
  7. Always check the edges of the frame before hitting the shutter, to avoid including distracters.
  8. Observe your own collection of images over a period of months and years, and avoid falling into a comfort zone of one particular style of composing, keep re-inventing, always.
  9. Try visiting the same place at different times of the day/month/year.
  10. Art is probably the only venture where breaking the rules is a welcome change. So don’t hold back, understand the various nuances of composition, and then shatter them to come up with radical, appealing ideas.

So, time to put on your thinking hat, raise your arms in front, form rectangle with your hands, narrow your eyes and off you go on seeing a new world with your third eye!

1 Comment

  1. प्रतीक घाग
    November 4, 2011 @ 6:10 am

    very helpful vishal.. 🙂

    Reply

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