Struggling to understand/practice composition

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CptAmerica
CptAmerica Senior Member • Posts: 1,046
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

Another thing to look out for, is how far away you subject is placed from the edge of the picture. It's ok to leave spacing. It's ok to crop so tight that things are totally off the edge. Where you can create unwanted tension, is if you crop a picture so the edge of your subject directly lines up with the edge of the picture. Try to avoid that. If you see that, try cropping wider or tighter. Try and find a picture of a portrait where the top of the head DIRECTLY sits up against the edge of the picture, and you will see what I'm talking about. Notice that on the sample of my boy I presented I cropped tight enough where some of the top of the head was all the way out, to get closer to the eyes. Slightly wider and the shot wouldn't have worked because the top plane of his head would match the top plane of the image edge... unwanted tension.

Again, there are always exceptions... always. And these observations are ALWAYS subjective.

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BBbuilder467 Veteran Member • Posts: 4,569
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

PerAE wrote:

BBbuilder467 wrote:

PerAE wrote:

Hi,

I’m new to this photography thing (besides using my phone) and I’m having a hard time understanding how to compose my photos in a good way. There’s a tendency to put the subjects smack in the middle when I look at my photos. Not in all of them, but a lot.

I thought I’ll post two photos here where I deliberately put the subjects in the middle and with a lot of room around them so that someone who’s good at this could perhaps show me how you would have composed these scenes (and perhaps explain to me why you’d choose to compose them that way)

Using a cellphone in portrait orientation, I tend to pick subject matter that favors being centered. When using a camera in landscape orientation, I can choose subject matter that can be composed differently. Your animal photos are similar to portraits, where there is nothing else in the scene, so they will tend to be centered.

Try more complicated scenes with more subject matter to relate to. Just zooming in and out will change the composition. When there is more in the scene, you'll have a reason to adjust the composition.

Using the phone has probably got you in the habit of selecting subjects that look best centered. When using a camera, I have to remember not to do that.

That’s are really good point! I’m very used to using a phone and have little experience with a camera (and zoom).

So for close ups of people and animals composition isn’t all that important, but if I take a wider shot (fex to show what the animals are doing or in what surroundings they are) composition starts to matter more?

With the phone, you moved forward and back to frame and compose, and the subject looked best centered. You were doing it naturally. You basically isolated a single subject. Most of the photos were in portrait orientation.

You have more choices with the camera to add more subject matter in the frame.  Instead of one subject, use two, and see how they fit. You can't fill the frame with One subject all the time. You have to balance it out when there is more in the scene.

You would have done the same thing when you used the phone in landscape orientation. It wouldn't look as good with everything centered.

barbara j Regular Member • Posts: 352
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

PerAE wrote:

Hi,

I’m new to this photography thing (besides using my phone) and I’m having a hard time understanding how to compose my photos in a good way. There’s a tendency to put the subjects smack in the middle when I look at my photos. Not in all of them, but a lot.

I probably learned the most about composition when I started cropping my images. As I began to crop different ways, I started to learn how I liked images arranged. That's all that counts in the end, does it look good to you.

I still find something I missed when cropping for social. Sometimes I will go back and reshoot the location with the crop in mind. Then I find the low slung wires across the scene that forced me to shoot too far to the left in the first place. But sometimes, if the light is right, and the wind is coming in from my shoulder, I get what I came back for 

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OP PerAE Regular Member • Posts: 384
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

CptAmerica wrote:

PerAE wrote:

Thanks for a very interesting post with great pictures as examples! Very easy to understand what you mean then, great stuff! I see what you mean by the direction of the energy

How would you frame a picture like this where the subject looks more straight ahead? Would you push that to one side( the left?) too?

Nope... I would shift her to the right. First, the energy in this image is relatively stagnant. No real direction,. So next, look at pieces around your subject and see if anything else (shapes, colors, angles) detract from the image. Remove things that detract.

In this case, the window on the left (her right) doesn't detract. But the framework/window on the right (her left) DOES. I would try copping this right up to the edge of the black so there is no window framework/white on the right side of the image. But only right up to that line. Don't crop her sweater at all.

Another advantage of a slightly tighter crop, removing stuff from the right, is that you can finish removing her right hand, that is obnoxiously only in the frame by 2 fingers. This is a good example of other things to work on in your composition that isn't necessarily where your subject is placed.
Not only is there a direction to the energy in a picture, there is also "weight", too. Which can be balanced with placement, and edge spacing.

I didn't try myself, but that is the first thing I would try if this were in my lightroom.
And remember... this stuff is all 100% subjective. Don't let anybody tell you anything contrary.

That does indeed look better! 
My problem is that I was completely unable to see that the right side detracted from the picture (or that it would be better without those two fingers sticking up). I see it clearly now, but on my own I didn’t at all

CptAmerica
CptAmerica Senior Member • Posts: 1,046
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition

PerAE wrote:

CptAmerica wrote:

That does indeed look better!
My problem is that I was completely unable to see that the right side detracted from the picture (or that it would be better without those two fingers sticking up). I see it clearly now, but on my own I didn’t at all

Not quite done yet. Try and keep about this number of pixels in your picture, but see if you can move her head UP in the picture a little bit. Put her eyes about where her bangs currently end... 2 or 3" up. There is a TAD too much dead space above her head... just a pinch. But don't bring those bottom fingers back in, and don't bring any window back in from the right... If you lose a little sweater, no biggy.

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CptAmerica
CptAmerica Senior Member • Posts: 1,046
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

Also... there is another way to go, too. Had the shot been a lot wider, with a raised position of the shooter... the shot MIGHT have looked better with the windows open equally on both sides with her in the middle. Standing below and slightly to the left is creating some of these compositional issues in this picture. It could have been made better with where and how you chose to stand.

All these things take a long time to get right in the VF, before you get to your editing software.

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OP PerAE Regular Member • Posts: 384
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

barbara j wrote:

PerAE wrote:

Hi,

I’m new to this photography thing (besides using my phone) and I’m having a hard time understanding how to compose my photos in a good way. There’s a tendency to put the subjects smack in the middle when I look at my photos. Not in all of them, but a lot.

I probably learned the most about composition when I started cropping my images. As I began to crop different ways, I started to learn how I liked images arranged. That's all that counts in the end, does it look good to you.

I still find something I missed when cropping for social. Sometimes I will go back and reshoot the location with the crop in mind. Then I find the low slung wires across the scene that forced me to shoot too far to the left in the first place. But sometimes, if the light is right, and the wind is coming in from my shoulder, I get what I came back for

That sounds and feels like what I’ll do too, I think. Practice with cropping where there’s more time to think and hopefully that will learn me how to think faster on my feet after a while

OP PerAE Regular Member • Posts: 384
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

CptAmerica wrote:

PerAE wrote:

CptAmerica wrote:

That does indeed look better!
My problem is that I was completely unable to see that the right side detracted from the picture (or that it would be better without those two fingers sticking up). I see it clearly now, but on my own I didn’t at all

Not quite done yet. Try and keep about this number of pixels in your picture, but see if you can move her head UP in the picture a little bit. Put her eyes about where her bangs currently end... 2 or 3" up. There is a TAD too much dead space above her head... just a pinch. But don't bring those bottom fingers back in, and don't bring any window back in from the right... If you lose a little sweater, no biggy.

Like so? (Lost a few pixels to avoid the fingers coming back)

stevenj2
stevenj2 Senior Member • Posts: 1,051
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

[ .............edit out]

Re below.

There is a story (very short is fine) in photographs. Little shows here. It is a snapshot.

Do you get a kind of 'tunnel vision' when getting ready to take the shot? Don't lose sight of the general scene, a story. Believe you are creating a bit of art and the frame is your canvas / or poster/ or cine frame.

So much more than thinking should the 'object' here be toward the left or right. Neither or both, depending on more than we can see or now about the reality of it. How about up or down or you walk or zoom back to have some of here arms and such seen on a window sill.

Later: Pose/ expression, lighting (even help from on camera little flash.

Regards,

PerAE wrote:

Thanks for a very interesting post with great pictures as examples! Very easy to understand what you mean then, great stuff! I see what you mean by the direction of the energy

How would you frame a picture like this where the subject looks more straight ahead? Would you push that to one side( the left?) too?

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OP PerAE Regular Member • Posts: 384
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

CptAmerica wrote:

Also... there is another way to go, too. Had the shot been a lot wider, with a raised position of the shooter... the shot MIGHT have looked better with the windows open equally on both sides with her in the middle. Standing below and slightly to the left is creating some of these compositional issues in this picture. It could have been made better with where and how you chose to stand.

All these things take a long time to get right in the VF, before you get to your editing software.

She’s up on the second floor so I couldn’t get to her height without a lift unfortunately:)

OP PerAE Regular Member • Posts: 384
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

I see what you’re saying  and that’s good advice, but for me this picture tells the story about when my wife, the hospital nurse, got a sore throat during the C19-pandemic and we lived on different floors and talked to each other with me standing under her window until her test came back negative  I have no ideas how to tell that differently than this picture as it was taken, honestly, that was how we stood those days

stevenj2 wrote:

[ .............edit out]

Re below.

There is a story (very short is fine) in photographs. Little shows here. It is a snapshot.

Do you get a kind of 'tunnel vision' when getting ready to take the shot? Don't lose sight of the general scene, a story. Believe you are creating a bit of art and the frame is your canvas / or poster/ or cine frame.

So much more than thinking should the 'object' here be toward the left or right. Neither or both, depending on more than we can see or now about the reality of it. How about up or down or you walk or zoom back to have some of here arms and such seen on a window sill.

Later: Pose/ expression, lighting (even help from on camera little flash.

Regards,

PerAE wrote:

Thanks for a very interesting post with great pictures as examples! Very easy to understand what you mean then, great stuff! I see what you mean by the direction of the energy

How would you frame a picture like this where the subject looks more straight ahead? Would you push that to one side( the left?) too?

I s

CptAmerica
CptAmerica Senior Member • Posts: 1,046
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

PerAE wrote:

CptAmerica wrote:

Not quite done yet. Try and keep about this number of pixels in your picture, but see if you can move her head UP in the picture a little bit. Put her eyes about where her bangs currently end... 2 or 3" up. There is a TAD too much dead space above her head... just a pinch. But don't bring those bottom fingers back in, and don't bring any window back in from the right... If you lose a little sweater, no biggy.

Like so? (Lost a few pixels to avoid the fingers coming back)

BOOM! Much better. We didn't lose any of her pose, we didn't lose the idea she's looking out of a window and we are MUCH more sucked in to the person... the eyes. Even though the window sitting out along the left detracts your attention from the face a little? It doesn't really bother me.
This is a good example of a picture where there could have been a lot better compositional setup through the view finder (if there were actually time to do so, and you could actually stand higher...)... but you have to do the best with what you've got, in post.

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TacticDesigns
TacticDesigns Veteran Member • Posts: 7,680
Read Michael Freeman's Photo School
2

PerAE wrote:

Hi,

I’m new to this photography thing (besides using my phone) and I’m having a hard time understanding how to compose my photos in a good way. There’s a tendency to put the subjects smack in the middle when I look at my photos. Not in all of them, but a lot.

I thought I’ll post two photos here where I deliberately put the subjects in the middle and with a lot of room around them so that someone who’s good at this could perhaps show me how you would have composed these scenes (and perhaps explain to me why you’d choose to compose them that way)

If you really want to start to understand composition, read Michael Freeman's Photo School.

https://www.amazon.com/Photo-School-Michael-Freeman-1985-02-03/dp/B01F9QLRSI/ref=sr_1_15?dchild=1&keywords=michael+freeman+photo+school&qid=1596496700&sr=8-15

Or any of Michael Freeman's books.

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=michael+freeman+photo+school&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

As far as centering vs. rule of thirds . . . Michael talks about balance.

If you have something in the middle, it is balanced.

If you move it off center, then it may or may not be balanced.

But that is ok.

If not balanced, this could introduce tension (interest) into the photo.

If you are composing a shot with two or more objects in the frame . . . you can find the balance between the two objects so that each object is not in the center of the frame . . . but the balance point between the two objects is in the center. In which case the composition is balanced.

Nothing wrong with balanced. That could communicate the idea of calm or tranquility.

So . . . composition is about you "feeling" something in the scene in front of you. And wanting to compose the shot in order to pass that "feeling" on to the viewer.

Reading a book like Michael Freeman's Photo School simply gives you a bunch of tools to use that will help you communicate what you want the viewer to feel in the shot.

Michael Freeman's books basically teach you the visual language of photography / art.

Take care & Happy Shooting!

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CptAmerica
CptAmerica Senior Member • Posts: 1,046
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
2

PerAE wrote:

Thanks for a very interesting post with great pictures as examples! Very easy to understand what you mean then, great stuff! I see what you mean by the direction of the energy

Here is another example I use when I am teaching composition. This is a neat one, because I have placed my subject and background in a specific place to create something a little out of the ordinary. Take a look first:

What do you see? In this image, what has been created by the sheer alignment of things in the picture, is a cross. big plus sign. The grass going up the dirt road, meets the split in the different tree depths in the top half of the image. The horizon of the road on the left, meets the rocks on the right. It creates an image that appears to be separated into 4 quadrants.

What I did, was place my boy in the "top left corner"... of the "bottom right quadrant". I hope that makes sense, it may take reading it a few times. I hope I explained it.

Most people would not place the subject like this, but to me... this created a neat effect. The energy direction of the road matches the direction my boy is facing. Even though there is a lot of ..."dead space" above and to the left, it isn't actually dead. That space is ADDING to the image, not detracting. It's adding to the story. It's hard to describe, but this composition, in my opinion, really works well. Take notice of the equal spacing of my subject from both the right and bottom edges of the image. With that spacing, the image breaths. Placed closer to the edges, and it would have created tension i wouldn't want. You want that balance.

Somebody else may dislike this and would have framed it totally differently.

Being able to see this stuff in the viewfinder, and quickly, takes a ton of practice. How did I spot this? You have to see what your subject is doing, which way they are facing or moving, take quick and constant mental notes of what is around your subjects, and where you need to stand in order to align things to get the balance, energy flow, and alignment of objects you want, to get the effect you want. Trial and error.

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BGD300V1
BGD300V1 Senior Member • Posts: 2,451
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
2

PerAE wrote:

I see what you’re saying and that’s good advice, but for me this picture tells the story about when my wife, the hospital nurse, got a sore throat during the C19-pandemic and we lived on different floors and talked to each other with me standing under her window until her test came back negative I have no ideas how to tell that differently than this picture as it was taken, honestly, that was how we stood those days

stevenj2 wrote:

[ .............edit out]

Re below.

There is a story (very short is fine) in photographs. Little shows here. It is a snapshot.

Do you get a kind of 'tunnel vision' when getting ready to take the shot? Don't lose sight of the general scene, a story. Believe you are creating a bit of art and the frame is your canvas / or poster/ or cine frame.

So much more than thinking should the 'object' here be toward the left or right. Neither or both, depending on more than we can see or now about the reality of it. How about up or down or you walk or zoom back to have some of here arms and such seen on a window sill.

Later: Pose/ expression, lighting (even help from on camera little flash.

Regards,

PerAE wrote:

Thanks for a very interesting post with great pictures as examples! Very easy to understand what you mean then, great stuff! I see what you mean by the direction of the energy

How would you frame a picture like this where the subject looks more straight ahead? Would you push that to one side( the left?) too?

I s

If you had the space I would have added some more to the bottom to include the window on the left down to where it met the sill. I would have included the sill. That would have made a nice frame for her, added her complete right hand and made it easier to figure out that it was a window and not just something on the side of the image.

That wouldn't be negative space, it would have added to the story.

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KCook
KCook Forum Pro • Posts: 18,321
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
2

PerAE wrote:

How would you frame a picture like this where the subject looks more straight ahead? Would you push that to one side( the left?) too?

From a candid / story telling / street photography viewpoint I would leave this shot open, no cropping.  Hyper precise cropping is cool for a formal shot.  Which this is not.

Kelly

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Mark Scott Abeln
Mark Scott Abeln Forum Pro • Posts: 15,678
Re: You are responsible for the framing
1

PerAE wrote:

Something like this? Doesn’t that look too “tight”?

I think that looks good. Maybe if you had a bit more room at the top and bottom.

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1HappySnapper Regular Member • Posts: 364
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
3

PerAE wrote:

Hi,

I’m new to this photography thing (besides using my phone) and I’m having a hard time understanding how to compose my photos in a good way. There’s a tendency to put the subjects smack in the middle when I look at my photos. Not in all of them, but a lot.

I thought I’ll post two photos here where I deliberately put the subjects in the middle and with a lot of room around them so that someone who’s good at this could perhaps show me how you would have composed these scenes (and perhaps explain to me why you’d choose to compose them that way)

To my mind, the composition refers to the arrangement of the subject and context in the picture.

You asked how would I have taken that shot. Here are my thoughts. The cat is the subject in the context of a grassy garden.

What is the reason for taking the shot, at all?

That answer might be that I love my moggie and any photo is sufficient reason. OR The cat looks zonked out and pensive. I wonder what it is thinking? OR I just love its markings. OR The cat owner will just love this snap.

All the reasons require different composure.

What I saw in your picture was a beautiful cat, daydreaming and rather than disturb it, I would have to snap it right there. It might not be the best angle or lighting and many other factors and someone else will criticise my choice.

With that feeling, the cat's expression and colouring are the main factors. We all know cats have bodies, but there aint much worth showing of that, in this case. Anyway, fill the scene with cat-front for maximum impact. There is also another great feature of this pose. The animal is sort of facing to the left. I will crop so the cat has space to 'look into'. If the creature was facing square on, there is a lot of symmetry in that pose, so I would crop it centre frame.

My first example is the distant view and I show it so you can see if you prefer it to the closer view. My personal opinion is crop tight for full impact. Make sure you don't cut away whiskers in the process because that  will spoil the picture.

Note, I have left the rule of turds grid on so you can see that It has no relevance here. If you superimpose the grid over experts work, you will seldom find the grid fits.

Do make sure you leave a decent space above the ears, in this case.

Why don't you try using the cropping tool on some of your other pics and see for yourself what YOU like.

I guarantee others will disagree with my choices and they might be right. They are entitled to their thought process and likes.

Someone mentioned your photo was dull. That is true, but has no real bearing on the composition which is difficult for everyone who has taken a photo they know isn't working.

Get the composition right and you can learn the technicals. Composition trumps everything else.

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Bill Ferris
Bill Ferris Veteran Member • Posts: 5,667
Re: Struggling to understand/practice composition
1

PerAE wrote:

Hi,

I’m new to this photography thing (besides using my phone) and I’m having a hard time understanding how to compose my photos in a good way. There’s a tendency to put the subjects smack in the middle when I look at my photos. Not in all of them, but a lot.

I thought I’ll post two photos here where I deliberately put the subjects in the middle and with a lot of room around them so that someone who’s good at this could perhaps show me how you would have composed these scenes (and perhaps explain to me why you’d choose to compose them that way)

Let's do a thought exercise. If your cat were a person and you were making a portrait of them, how would you compose the shot? Compare what you imagine your perspective and framing on the person would be with the above photo. Would you make a portrait of a person while standing high looking down upon them? Would you frame the person head-to-toe with a lot of empty space around them?

If you do a similar thought exercise with this photo, one of the questions you might ask is, would you photograph the person with their eyes visible to the lens or would you wait for the person to tuck the face into their elbow and sneeze or cough to make the exposure?

Ultimately, we end up making photographs that please us and, for a hobbyist, that's great. If your sense is that your photos are missing something or a bit off, a great way to explore and address that is to look for another photographer's work that you really like and study it.

What perspective does the photographer take with respect to their subjects? At eye level, below or above eye level? Is the subject making eye contact with the lens/photographer? If not making eye contact, are the eyes visible? What is the quality of light? Is the framing tight, wide or very wide/loose? Is there anything in the frame in addition to the subject? If yes, what does it add to the image?

Good luck on your journey.

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MrBrightSide
MrBrightSide Contributing Member • Posts: 868
It's all about balancing your lights and your darks, brights and neutrals
1

Just pretend you're shooting for a magazine and the art director needs lots of room to fit in type and headlines to one side of your subject.

An easy rule of thumb is that centered compositions generally work best for sacred subjects like houses of worship or anything that's symmetrical.

"Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA" legibly next to the image.

Most other subjects need breathing room on one side or the other. Generally you put the breathing room on the side that's most interesting.

As for your cat, since we can't really see the eyes, to me what's most interesting about it is the arched shape of its back...

You can also balance something big and dark (cat) with something small and light, like this:

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