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Up for Discussion – Composition

Today’s guest blog is from Stacey who has a blog called Lensaddiction.  Stacey has offered to write a post on composition and some of the basic aspects of it that help make a good image.  

Composition Basics

I get frustrated by the fancy books and websites with amazing shots from Iceland and Patagonia, waterfalls in Norway, amazing scenery in places I can never expect to go. Usually shot by professionals with several days or even weeks to spend on site so that they get lots of opportunities to get the perfect sunrise or shot.

This post is bought to you by just another photographer, with limited time and budget for gear and equipment, who is still learning every time she gets her camera out. Someone who goes to exotic locations hardly ever and if she does, has pretty much one opportunity to get the shot and has to deal with whatever the conditions are on the day.

When you boil photography down to the very key elements, composition is ultimately what makes or breaks an image. You can have the most expensive gear, know absolutely everything about all the functions and features on your camera, travel to the most exotic locations, but if your image is not well composed then its not really happening.

Back when I was getting serious about photography I researched composition, and blogged about it

What are the Rules of Composition – what I discovered

What are the Rules of Composition – what other people shared

For this post here are what I think are the four most important basic fundamentals for composition. Helpfully there are plenty of “this is the wrong way to do it” shots to share with you!

1. Everybody’s Favourite – The Rule of Thirds

To me this is the “not putting the subject in the centre” rule, which offers more latitude and for me that is the essence of this rule. A subject smack bang in the center of your image (unless it’s a symmetrical reflection shot) is static and uninteresting.

This little fellow below is to the right of center with space to his left – that is to give him space to “look’ into or ‘move forward into”This shot also shows the “fill the frame with the subject” and “keep the background neutral” compositional elements

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This is a wedgetail eagle in Australia which is a good rule of thirds example, the line of the feathers along the body is on one 1/3 line and the eye is at an intersection of two 1/3 lines.

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But here is another duckling more centered and he kinda feels a bit … stuck… or lacking in energy and potential.

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Another stuck in the middle shot of an Australian bush wallaby.

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2. Focus on the eyes (and get a catchlight)

When taking photos of anything living, always focus on the eyes. You can see from the image below the front of the bill is out of focus, and the eyes are as well. The bit that is in focus is the front of the head, and so you feel like she is actually looking over your shoulder at something more interesting LOL.

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Now this handsome Willy Wagtail has all the eye action and also the very important catchlight (that’s the bright white spot from the sun on his dark eye) which helps highlight the eye and shows the critter is engaged with you.

We don’t have the catchlight on the duck above, hence the feeling she is looking elsewhere.

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A Black NZ Robin where the eye has been directly focussed on, and I waited til I had the right angle for the catchlight. The lower part of the body is out of focus, but it’s the connection with the eye that we look for.

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3. BACKGROUNDS (and Foregrounds)

Oooh this is one that I am really bad at, getting so involved in the action and completely forgetting to check and see what the background is doing.

The Robin shot above is a classic example of a terribly messy distracting background but when shooting wild creatures you just get whatever their environment it and have to make the best of it.

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This is a blue Burmese kitten that a friend wanted shots of – I have used black sheets on the bed to provide a neutral background (and focussed on the eyes) also shows filling the frame with your subject.

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Clear blue skies make a great background.

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But what about if you can’t control your background and its crowded action scene?

Indoor social dance shots often have messy and distracting backgrounds, using a shallow DOF helps isolate the subjects from the background. Also if it is dark, using a flash to isolate the subjects can help too.

I could go tone down the exposure of the background in post pro a bit as well.

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And sometimes the action is so fast and the lighting so poor that you get it completely wrong too.

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And sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

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Other options, change the angle of shooting, I had a busy background for this shot but changing the angle and using the sky and filling the frame solved that issue.

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This was the other shot.

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Foregrounds are just as important especially in nature photography – look how untiy and distracting the foreground is below with lots of blurry bright shots and leaves in the way – BAD!

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This shot is better, it uses an isolated clump as the foreground interest (though that clump in the bottom right hand corner is a bit of a distraction).

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4. CHANGE YOUR SHOOTING POSITION AND HEIGHT

I read somewhere that around 80% of all images are taken at an average height of 5’ 6”, which is fine if that’s where your subject is, but not so good if it’s a small mushroom or flower in the ground…..

Be prepared to get down in the dirt, in the water or climb a tree or a ladder to get the best vantage. This also applies for framing up your shot, don’t just rock up to a viewing platform, take the shot and then go. If its safe to do so and you have time, wander around, see if you can get a better or more interesting angle. Take into consideration what the light is doing for the image you want to create.

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These two shots were taken lying flat out on my stomach in wet sheep shit in a cemetery – took three washes to get my jeans clean!

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Compare this kitten shot taken from above and these ones where I have got down to eye level with the kittens – such a different feel.

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So there you go, Composition Basics according to Lensaddiction. I hope this may have been of some help with you on your path to photographic nirvana.

(Stacey from Lensaddiction invested in her first DSLR back in 2007. Since then she has spent far too much time outside with her camera having adventures and luckily not getting her car stuck in a bog or a stream, both of which are common in New Zealand.

To make sure that some sanity remained she took to blogging about experiences with trying to use the new camera and sharing what learnings came her way.

Remember, its supposed to be fun!)

I hope you will all thank Stacey for her post and I hope it will help you all with, or those that are unsure about composition.  Thank you Stacey.  I also hope that you will go and visit her blog, Lensaddiction.

75 Comments
  1. These are absolutely wonderful tips! I often feel so pressured to take quick pictures and end up having so many that are just…lifeless! I continually remind myself to be mindful of what i’m doing and what I’m really looking for in a shot. Bracketing has been a huge help, especially when i’m pretty off with my settings! thanks for this great post!

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Hey Stephanie, you just reminded me that I forgot to include the most important tip of all, TAKE YOUR TIME AND BE IN THE MOMENT 🙂

      I hear you on the pressure to shoot quickly esp if the targets are moving objects so keeping just a couple of basics in mind is really helpful – I *always* forget to check my backgrounds

      October 10, 2014
  2. Couldn’t agree more on this little instruction manual 😀

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thanks, I hope you found something useful.

      October 10, 2014
  3. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez #

    Wow, just wow! The links are excellent and I shared in Facebook. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Thank you and others for sharing this. ❤

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thanks Jackie, yes its an important subject and I am still learning every day too 🙂

      October 10, 2014
  4. Great photographs, great examples.

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Victor I appreciate your kind words 🙂

      October 10, 2014
  5. Excellent introduction to those who are not familiar with composition and a very good reminder to those who need to be reminded.

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Cheers Allen, these are the basics that I find most helpful to be sure!

      October 10, 2014
  6. Great tips! I am a total newbie and I can see the difference of changing the shooting height for sure. I’ve got to try the focusing on the eyes…

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Hey Supriya, if your camera allows you to select the focal point, then I recommend using that, I never let my camera choose the focal point, its too important!

      October 10, 2014
      • Thanks! I’ll remember that 😀

        October 10, 2014
      • lensaddiction #

        its also useful for allowing you to frame up your image in a particular way while letting you set the focus point where you want it, ie a really good way of not having all your subjects more or less in the middle of the frame, which is what your camera likely defaults to

        October 10, 2014
  7. Thank you for a good, clear summary of some very basic but extremely important aspects to good photography. I never fail to marvel at how often these rules are ignored and the photographer asks, what’s wrong with this shot. The amusing side, as mentioned in the post, is that there are exceptions to all rules. Understanding the exceptions is usually the hardest part.

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thanks John, I think to understand the exceptions you need to have grasped the basics and figured out how they best work for you and then be prepared to experiment and see what happens.

      Trouble is that the real world doesnt present itself to be photographed easily!

      October 10, 2014
  8. Becky Field, Artist #

    Fantastic blog post. Explained beautifully in jargonless manner. Loved it. Thank you xx

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thanks Becky, appreciate it

      October 10, 2014
  9. Good reminders about DOF, shooting position and focus on the eye! I love bird photography but can often get focused on catching the little critter and forgetting about the clean(ish) background. So many things to remember, but as you say, practise lots, and have fun in the process too! Thank you Stacey & Leanne – Chris

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Cheers Chris, yes those pesky birds never stay still long enough and have the audacity to fly away as well!

      October 10, 2014
  10. This was wonderful. I like that you showed what comprises a ‘bad’ photo and how to correct it. Very helpful! Thanks so much.

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      🙂 I have plenty of ‘bad’ images in my archives, but I normally don’t share them with the world LOL

      October 10, 2014
  11. Thanks Leanne for your guest blogger Stacey. Stacey thanks for reinforcing composition for me. I have it always in the back of my head but sometimes you forget so I appreciate the post very much. I love your examples which really hit home why it is important as well as depth of field etc. I always thought I would do anything for photography but your description of where you were for the mushrooms – well I realise no I wouldn’t have taken that shot lol! 🙂

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      My passion for photograpy has taken me in all sorts of directions and places and situations I never expected. For the mushroom shot what I “should” have done was changed into my waterproof pants but didnt realise the scale of the number of mushrooms and just got so into it, I just forgot. Luckily I had a change of clothes in the car!

      October 10, 2014
  12. wonderful tips! Thanks Stacy and Leanne. I will be popping over to Stacy’s blog for more of this beautiful photography!

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thankyou, I look forward to seeing you over there, I better get my act into gear and post some new stuff 🙂

      October 10, 2014
  13. Nicely done!

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Cheers Susan, thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      October 10, 2014
  14. Love it

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thanks!

      October 10, 2014
  15. These examples and explanations were great! Thank you so much for sharing. Your photos are beautiful.

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      I appreciate your saying so.

      October 10, 2014
  16. Great post! And when I read your story about the mushrooms I am soooo glad I have a camera with a screen that can be turned. So in situations like this I usually switch to live view and turn my screen, in that way I can take pictures from stuff on ground level and still stay dry and clean 🙂

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      I still like to get down to the proper level because it helps you for finding a good clear background, and the angle the light is coming in. Certainly would ensure I was a lot cleaner with the tilt screen option, thats for sure 🙂

      October 10, 2014
  17. This is a great post and I am in like mind and thoughts. There is so much information out there – what is right and wrong – it adds to the pressure of trying to get something – right. I try not to follow the rules myself – as it is an expression of who I am – right or wrong. Photography is an art form (in my eye) and each shot will never please everyone. Some times the best shot is the shot not exactly as planned!

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      I often find my best shots are often never planned in advance at all, like the mushroom shots, I had no idea they were even there on the day I went up but I had a lovely couple of hours shooting them in all stages of their life

      October 10, 2014
  18. Good tips.

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thanks

      October 11, 2014
  19. Big thank you! Great tips .. Gosh so much is the background and always positioning!

    October 10, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Yes the background can have a lot of impact, it’s the one I struggle with myself the most

      October 11, 2014
  20. There’s only one rule that I ever follow — all the rest are breakable almost immediately — “If the picture isn’t good enough, you weren’t close enough.” — Robert Capa. Think about it, from a physical and metaphysical standpoint. It’s eye opening.

    October 11, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Yes that is certainly a very valid point, but sometimes for safety reasons or geographical you can’t always get as close as you might like

      October 11, 2014
  21. Some good pointers 🙂 Many thanks for the help, ladies!

    October 11, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Glad to assist 😊

      October 11, 2014
  22. great post, stacy.
    thank you for sharing.
    thank you very much.
    next time i need to go low to get the shot, i will bite the bullet and do it 🙂
    ken

    October 11, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Going low really makes all the difference with those shots that need it, so good luck!

      October 11, 2014
  23. Great way to explain these things – I am not a ‘cat person’ but that shot of the kitten licking its paws is wonderful.

    October 11, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thanks, his name is cognac and he is my fluffy boy😀

      October 11, 2014
  24. Thanks for sharing the tips and the links.
    All the photos are great. I specially like the close up of kitten and the red mushroom. The part ” These two shots were taken lying flat … three washes to get my jeans clean!” has motivated me to shoot at the subject’s height.

    October 11, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Hey Norma, if I inspired anyone to do just one thing differently then shooting at the subject height would be my pick, it was a real revelation for me personally

      October 11, 2014
      • I must say that I’ve taken this advise and started shooting at the subject’s height (thanks,again) and the result is more than amazing. Though sometimes I really can’t because of my knee ache bending and getting up takes an eternity so I just leave it.

        October 14, 2014
      • lensaddiction #

        Glad to hear you are getting good results but be kind to your knees!

        October 14, 2014
  25. hawaygeordie #

    Thanks,Stacey! Wonderful approach to composition and capturing images. Have you considered writing a book on the subject, using your images? You have an easy style that many readers would feel comfortable with.

    October 11, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Very kind of you to say so, haven’t considered writing a book cos I’m just another photographer with a camera and an opinion LOL

      October 11, 2014
      • hawaygeordie #

        That’s what I thought too until I put together one on lighting diagrams for studios. It’s currently no 1 on Amazon Kindle for lighting. Have a go?

        October 11, 2014
      • Maybe this is something you should discuss on her blog Brian, doesn’t do good things for my confidence having something like this discussed here.

        October 11, 2014
      • hawaygeordie #

        My apologies, Leanne.

        October 11, 2014
      • That’s okay,

        October 11, 2014
      • lensaddiction #

        Something to think about!

        October 11, 2014
  26. Loved all the photos, even the blurry ones. So much to absorb, but all good suggestions. I’m still working with my small Nikon 210 – it’s old, but still takes great ones. Use my macro setting alot when I take photos of my cats closeup. I do have fun with it. And the memory card is the easiest thing to grab the photos from.

    October 11, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Having fun is the most important thing of all!

      October 11, 2014
  27. All great tips!
    Thanks Leanne 🙂

    October 11, 2014
    • Not me RoSy, Stacey is responsible for this post, and you are right, she did give some great tips.

      October 11, 2014
      • Well thank you to Stacey & thank you for passing along the tips through your blog. 🙂 🙂

        October 11, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thanks RoSy, glad you think so

      October 13, 2014
  28. Great advice as usual Leanne. I always learn something useful here. Thanks to you and Stacey.

    October 12, 2014
    • I can’t really take the credit here, but I am sure Stacey will be happy to hear that.

      October 12, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      I am happy to hear that 🙂

      October 13, 2014
  29. excellent!

    October 13, 2014
    • lensaddiction #

      Thanks Robert

      October 13, 2014
  30. Ron #

    Reblogged this on PHOTOMANIA.

    December 28, 2014
  31. Beautiful pictures!!!

    December 30, 2014
    • Yes, Stacey’s pictures are wonderful.

      December 30, 2014

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