Article on Composing a Picture


TPF Noob!
Jan 28, 2012
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I've written an article on image composition. I learned a lot in my research on the subject, and I'm sure it'll be worth your time to take a look at it. Some things I talk about are:
  • all the parts of a picture should draw attention to the subject
  • Why the rule of thirds sucks, and how you should place a subject
  • how to use lines to your advantage
  • using hue/value/saturation to create mood and draw attention to the subject
  • and a bunch of short tips

In a few short sentences I think the main thing I learned about image composition is that all the elements of a picture are equally important and should help the subject stand out. It might seem like a small realization, but it is a completely different way of looking at a picture. When I'm taking a picture I now think about how I can best use background elements to help my subject stand out. When people say to keep a picture simple it's not because simple pictures are the best, but because a simple background helps the subject stand out, while a complex scene can easily direct the viewers attention to the wrong part of a scene.

If you have any suggestions on what I should talk about in future articles, leave a comment below.
If you have any criticism on how I could improve the quality of my posts please leave a comment explaining what I can do.
Very helpful and your section "Furhther Reading" also led me to other links. The article on "Negative Space" further elaborates on composition. It is another way of emphasizing your point about simplicity with photographic examples to illustrate the message.

I liked your idea of using hue/saturation to help create the mood we hoped to show in a composition. It is interesting to note that a slide to increase or decrease blue hues in Adobe Camera Raw is labelled as "temperature".

Your sentences are succinct and clear. Side-by-side examples of the same scene, one showing a poor composition, the other showing how the same image could be improved by a different composition would help illustrate your ideas just as you did with your rule if thirds example.

Last spring I went on a group photo shoot to a garden. I took an image of a flower bud that turned out "okay". Another photographer took an image of the same bud, same day same lighting. His image was a "wow" only because he has chosen a slightly different angle making it a better composition.
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In his book, The Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, author and professional photographer Rob Sheppard describes the rule of thirds and says this:

"This technique can be effectively applied to create compositional interest in your photos. However this rule should be re-named as the "guideline" of thirds......It is an aid to composition, not a law....all landscape photos would look quite similar if every photographer used this "rule" all the time." p. 81

In your links there is another article nicely explaining the rule of thirds and suggests new photographers learn to use it correctly, so when they do "break" the rule as they should do, they know exactly what they are doing.

Somewhere else I read something along these line: civilized societies have laws, if we knowingly break a law to prove a point or challenge the law that is civil disobedience, if we break laws just to break them or ignore all laws then we have chaos.

Returning to your point about keeping backgrounds simple reminded me of something written by another photographer/author, David duChemin, making the point that "all content has meaning". The viewer of our photographs should assume that all elements we have included in our photographs are important and there for a reason. We should not include things in our photos just because it was there. We choose what to include or not include. So, as we look at the background in our photos we should ask ourselves should that be there or not. Is it important to the photo or not. Does it add to the impact of the photo or not. Does it have an important relationship to the main subject?

For example, in one of the links, I saw an evening photo of a lighted lamp post in clear focus in the foreground, in the background was a slightly blurred, and yet clearly visible, famous Tower of London. Was that background important for the photo? Yes. But, if it had just been some non-descript office building would it have been just as important or should it have been totally blurred out to non-recognizable object, just a color, with a much shallower depth of field? Yes.

When I was being taught about writing in English class, I learned from E.B. White's book on usage of language."Omit useless words".
Now, I am learning from photographers, "Omit useless elements."

So, when I make a photo of a duck swimming on a pond and there is a parked car in the background, should it be there? If I am taking the photo to show that the duck is in the city or not in the wilderness, then maybe the car belongs. But, if I want you to see a beautiful bird, then, damn it, make it an image of a bird!
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WOW, really good reading. I now have a better understand of the Golden Rule. Thanks and thanks again for the list of additional reading.
I haven't read it yet, too much going on at work to give it any real attention. I did scroll down the page and this jumped out at me:

"You’ll often here...." (first line under Centering the Subject heading). That should "hear," not "here."
That may be the only major mistake in the whole article for all I know, but do be careful and have it proofed. People will take an article much more seriously if it is grammatically correct. IMO. But then I'm an editor. ;)

More pictures would also help. That's a LOT of type, and on the internet, when people see that much text, without a good number of photos breaking it up, they tend to either not read it at all, or just skim it.
Great information, it covers a wide range of topics. Thanks!
I also have found this blog helpful, there's a new post each week with a different composition topic.
I would really love to read the whole thing, and I probably will in the future, but I've got some things that need seeing to! One thing that I can't help but comment on is that in the picture that you use to illustrate why you don't need to use the Ro3 you have still used the Ro3. Yes, the subject is centred on the horizontal plane but it is still on the thirds line on the vertical plane.

There's no way I'm saying that the Ro3 is a concrete rule but it seems ironic that you have used an image to downplay a rule that you are actually using. I actually think the Ro3 is quite critical in the image that you have shown us.

You may have written about what I've said in the article, please direct me to it and I'll give it a read. Sorry if I'm being a stupid-face! If you're interested in composition then you could research triangles, I scanned through and couldn't find it so you might be interested.

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