Main Page

Back     Contents     Glossary     Index     Forward

Chapter 12


Every good photograph is the result of technique and composition.

Technique is your ability to use the camera, film, lighting, etcetera.

Composition is the placement of subject, color, and mood in the frame.

Without good technique the photograph cannot be properly conveyed.

Without good composition the photo is not interesting.

There are exceptions to this, of course, such as industrial and other photography where documentation is more important than aesthetic rendering. That is as it should be.

The first step in the production of good photography is the mastery of technique. That's why this book starts with technique. Knowledge of exposure, depth of field, film, filters, etcetera are powerful photographic tools.

Not everyone will agree with that, of course, and that is as it should be. In fact, some people see no need for the technical side of photography at all and, that too, is as it should be.

Diversity of opinion is invaluable. Cherish your critics. From them you will learn. Not all your learning may be pleasant. To learn is what is important. If you need to "learn" yourself into a thick skin that is a valuable lesson in itself.

Artists and photographers have much in common. Conversations with artists are very enjoyable. We also have much not in common.

They tell us all we need do is snap the picture.

We tell them they can just paint out anything unwanted. The conversation is tremendous fun and never ends. Take every opportunity to engage an artist in conversation. I think you will find that both of you will be richer for the experience.

As your technical skills increase your photography will take on new dimensions because you literally be creating photographs. Technical difficulties will melt away leaving you with the capacity to make the camera deliver what you see in your mind's eye. This is a powerful, enabling place to be. When you can photograph what you see the camera will hold no secrets from you.

Remember. These guidelines are just that. Guidelines. Once you know them, break them, beak them forcefully, with a smile on your face and a song in your heart, but first you must know them.

Never become a slave to what someone else thinks your photography should be. Never be constrained by rules.

    Your photography is yours.

    Own it.

    Love it.

    Hate it.

    Fear Nothing.

Some General Terms

These terms are self explanatory but, it does not hurt to define them anyway.

  • Background That part of the photograph which is behind the subject.

  • Foreground That part of the photograph that is between the subject and the camera.

  • Modeling The interplay of light, dark, and shadow on the subject.

Consider This

Use your knowledge of depth of field to throw a distracting background out of focus, thereby bringing attention to the subject in the foreground.

Use depth of field to render a rock three foot from the camera as sharply focused as the mountain miles away. This uses the technique of hyperfocal focusing to ensure that everything from a few inches to infinity will be rendered acceptably sharp. This is particularly effective with a wide angle lens.

Use your knowledge of exposure to silhouette someone against the setting sun by exposing for the bright background. To light the person take a close up exposure reading or use fill flash.

With powerful techniques like these at your fingertips your composition will explode with creativity and vigor.

Improve Your Photos

Get close. Make the subject dominate the photograph. There should be no doubt as to what you have photographed. The subject should not be the smallest thing in the picture. Are there any distractions? These can be bright splashes of light, color, reflections, or something physical.

Choose camera format, vertical or horizontal? Some subjects will fit into a vertical format. Others, like landscapes work well horizontally. Also portrait head shots or full length picture photos of people. Do not hesitate to turn the camera. The circles in the viewfinder are for focusing, not for the center of interest.

An excellent technique that will pay for the cost of this e-book in film and processing is to let your eye travel around the edge of the viewfinder.

Look hard at what is in the picture, what is not in the picture, and what is partially in the picture.

Learn to see, truly see, what is in the viewfinder. What is in the foreground, the background, check the depth of field with the depth of field preview button.

Practice, practice, practice visualizing the final picture. There are many tips and tricks in photography. Few will advance your abilities as much as this one. Learn to manicure the photo right here, right now, in the viewfinder, in real time, before you take the picture. Learn to do this.

Ask yourself, "What do I want to change in the photo?" To answer that question you must see what is in the photograph. To do this you will soon realize what scientists have known for years: You see with your brain, not with your eyes. For example: You are taking a full length photo of a person. So:

  • You look trough the camera and turn it vertically.
  • You see a tree sticking out of the person's head, so you move to the left or right. Now the tree is gone.
  • You see that the person's tie is crooked and ask him to straighten it.
  • The person is chewing gum, you ask him to remove it.
  • You make several exposures and get the shot.
Look at the improvements that you made before taking a single photograph. You do not need to look through the camera to see this. Set up your photograph, create the image you want, then photograph it.

Now you can appreciate why this technique is so valuable. Every improvement before the shutter is pressed will save you money, film, processing and your reputation.

And that is the time to make improvements, before you Press the shutter release.

Here are some ways to create good composition:

  • When something must be cropped out of a photo, compose boldly. Do not leave dangling hands without fingers. Have no trees growing from people's head's. Create powerful photographs that can stand alone.

  • Try not to have strong lines leading to the corners of a picture. A strong line might be a tree branch, someone's arm, or a stairway. You don not want to lead the viewers eye out of the photo.

  • When placing the subject in the frame, do not center it, a strongly centered subject will look like a bulls eye. Exceptions? Of course, there are exceptions portrait head shots, sure just do not center the eyes.

Study paintings by acknowledged experts such as the old masters to determine how they handled lighting, facial expression, and perspective. These men are not called "old masters" for nothing. You can learn a great deal from art books and trips to museums.

Read books that deal with composition.

How To See Artistically

Artists and others use the term seeing to refer to the ability to conceptualize fine art or other media. Here the term is used for a process that allows you to improve your photos before or as you are taking them. Here's how:

  • Cradle the camera comfortably.

  • Look into the view finder. Is the subject where you want it? Is the horizontal or vertical format better for this subject?

  • Actually "run" your eye around the entire border of the frame. While this sounds strange it is the single best way to immediately improve your photography. Look for anything that will be detrimental to the photo. In this way you solve composition problems before you take the photo.

Go make well-composed pictures.

Back     Contents     Glossary     Index    Forward

 Chapter 11              Chapter 13