Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Step Two: Why Composition is so Important

Most of us aren't looking to make a living off of our photography. We just want pictures of our family and friends and in the digital age it's easy to make that wish come true. Sometimes it's a bit too easy and we get photo vomit. I'll be the first to admit I'm guilty of it myself which is why my boss is hell bent on getting me in a 12-step program.

A benefit of digital photography is that it's easier to learn how to take better pictures than it used to be because there is instantaneous feedback. That is, it's easy if you're willing to take off your rose-colored glasses and look at your pictures with a truly constructive eye. I know, I need to practice what I preach.

It's surprisingly harder than it sounds. We all have a natural bias towards the pictures we take, not because we're vain, but because we have an emotional connection to the person(s) or moment(s) we're capturing. If you don't want others running in the opposite direction when you come at them with your cellphone or camera full of photos or if you want to wow others with your photographic prowess, then it's worth it to admit that you're biased and learn a little (or a lot) about composition. Say it with me, my name is Debra (or insert your name here) and I'm biased about the pictures I take.

In most cases we either put too much or too little into the frame when we're composing the shot. I have a "when in doubt, leave it out" mentality which is my way of saying I have a tendency to err on the side of filling  the frame with my subject a little too often. It's something that I'm working to change. When taking a picture, ask yourself, what is it that you're trying to convey, or why is it you're compelled to take the shot. The answer will tell you what needs to be within the frame for you in order to convey that message.

If you're trying to convey that your baby love is the cutest thing in town, I suggest going in for the kill. In the photo below, I pulled in nice and tight so I can kiss those little chubby cheeks on my computer screen anytime I want. True, I lost a bit of Max's fingers and little bit of his head in the composition, but that's okay because I didn't cut him at his limbs and I didn't decapitate him.

I was accused by brother of cutting Matt and Ashley out of the picture below because it's all about Maximus now. While that may be true, I purposefully did it in this shot because I wanted to convey the message that Maximus is in good, loving hands. So I pulled in close enough to show him enveloped in the strong arms of his daddy while his mommy looks lovingly upon him. I probably should have composed it a little lower so I'm not quite decapitating Matthew, but I wanted to frame up a bit of Ashley's face because I loved how she was smiling at her baby boy.

In this shot, I show the entire family, but because it's framed differently, the message I trying to convey above is lost. It's just a lovely family enjoying a Saturday afternoon.

In the photo below, I pulled the camera back enough so that you can see that Maximus is lifting up his body and head to look at something of interest to him. If I had pulled in too close, I would have lost the curiosity he's showing and if I pulled too far back, the people in the background would have been a distracting part of the picture. Note how he's close to the edge of the frame, but I still captured his chubby little fingers death gripping his pretzels.

There's not always a right answer in what should or shouldn't be included in your composition, but there is sometimes a better answer. Case in point in the three pictures below. Last week I talked Brie into going to the park with me to take some pictures. I asked if she was willing to climb a large tree with a giant trunk and much to my delight, she agreed. I started off with my normal close and tight shot. I thought I was doing good because I wasn't as close and tight as I normally was.

As I looked at the camera display, I realized that by being so close, I was missing the grandeur of the tree (not to mention I had cut off a bit more of her feet than I wanted to) so I stepped back at bit and was rewarded with what I think is a far more compelling shot.

I like the next shot even better because it gives the illusion that she's higher off the ground that the shot above, but there is no doubt that both shots are better than the first one.

Below is another example of how being aware of what's in the frame can make a difference in the message you are trying to convey. As I was out this evening, the colors of the sun bouncing off a building caught my eye. In the first shot, you can see the brilliance of the sunset, but the cars in front of the building distract from the beauty and unless I told you what you were looking at you're probably not sure why I stopped to take this picture.

I drew closer to the building eliminating the cars from the frame, but honestly, it's still a yawner of a shot.

I stepped in a little bit more and took this shot which I like better because now I've got silhouettes of the trees and flags in the reflection of the building, but I've lost the golden fire color and I have those blasted cars in the background again bringing me to my next point...not everything makes a good picture no matter what you do. Sometimes it's best just to hit the delete button.

Tomorrow, I'll cover seeing the shot with camera eyes instead of human eyes and then on Thursday, I'll cover what you need to know about your camera. For now, look at some of your photos with that critical eye and consider what you might do differently if you had the chance to do it over again. If there is too much distraction in the frame, try cropping elements out to see how that would change the composition and if that would better convey your message.

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