Thursday, July 13, 2017

Three Tips for Careful Composition

At the Trevi Fountain in Rome
I consider myself a decent photographer. Over the years, I've learned to slow down and take some time to carefully "craft" a photo - if I have time. Sometimes the trains don't wait and you have to shoot quickly, but sometimes... you have the time to do it right.

The two basic elements of a photograph are exposure and composition. I'll write about exposure another time but I wanted to talk a bit about how you can tweak your composition to get better photos.

These are examples of what you can do with composition to improve your photos... maybe not dramatically, but improve them a little bit. It's the details that matter and they all add up.

I'll discuss three things to think about while composing a photo:

  • Watch the edges
  • Move your feet
  • No touching!

Watch the Edges

Ehh, all right, I guess
Here's a half decent photo of a telegraph pole along the CN main line. It's OK, but that wire along the bottom edge... it's distracting. What happens if we crop a bit?

Just getting rid of that little distraction improves the photo. It'll never be an award winner but it's not bad.

Always watch the edges of your photos for little distracting elements that creep into the photo. Branches, wires, posts... these little pests don't belong in your photo if they are not the main subject.

Move Your Feet

Wide open prairie... not bad!
I was out at Meadows, Manitoba and decided to photograph this road heading off into the distance. I think it's a good photo, but... that pole shadow across the road...

I walked forward a few steps, and voila!
Wide open prairie and no shadow!
Better? I think so. The photo is essentially the same but I eliminated the distracting shadow by moving my feet. I could have zoomed in a bit instead, but that would have changed the composition. By walking a few steps, I end up with the same wide open shot without the shadow.

If I was really picky, I would consider editing out that one tree in the middle of the horizon. It's another detail that I might not want in the shot.
Now, no tree

No Touching!

Try to keep the object of the photo from touching or obscuring other things in the photo. For example, check out these two photos, taken seconds apart.
Locomotive not obscuring the signal

See how the locomotive in the second shot obscures the signal? I think the first is a better photo because you can see the whole signal tower. In the second photo you don't see the lower red indication.

It's subtle, but it makes a difference.

Another example. I spent about a minute composing the photo below.
St. Paul's Anglican Church, and fence
I wanted the focus to be on the fence, but not obscure the steeple. I also wanted the cross on top of the steeple to be isolated and not touch anything. It took a bit of maneuvering and careful positioning but I am very pleased with the result.

Details Matter

I hope those three elements of composition will help you improve your photography. Remember to watch the edges for distractions, move your feet to get only what you want in the photo, and keep elements from touching in the photo for maximum effect.

See Also


Jenn said...

Great tips Steve! I have definitely improved my composition skills since I first started. I'm still learning though which is the best part!

Steve Boyko said...

Thanks, Jenn! I admire your photography on your blog. You do have an eye for composition.

We're all learning! :)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps more photo-editing than photography, because I'm unlikely to think of it while trackside: I always like to get the rail exiting the photo, usually at bottom left corner. It seems to lead the eye to...more.

Great ideas in this post!

Steve Boyko said...

Me too, Eric! It's pretty natural to use rails as leading lines - and very effective.