Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tutorial 3 : Composition (Part 1)

Part I Introduction and a few simple steps to better pictures.

The modern camera is capable of many things. It can focus for you; work out exposure for you; select a suitable shutter speed or aperture along with a multitude of other functions. However useful you may find these functions the one thing a camera can't do is compose your picture for you. It has no idea what it is pointing at and it has no idea what you are trying to achieve so you are on your own.

If you are using an 'auto-everything' camera like a 35mm compact or program SLR then your main area of control is going to be in the composition of your photographs. Sadly I can't tell you how to take a great picture as to some degree it comes down to your ability to 'see' a picture or the potential to create a picture. Having said that; there are a load of 'rules' and techniques you can use to improve the final look of your photographs. We will look at a few of the popular, effective and easy to implement techniques that you will be able to start using right away.

Quick Tip
Editing: Before you show anyone those hundreds of holiday photos or the 2 hour slide show, edit your work. Take out all the doubles, all the duds, the out of focus and generally crap. Only show people the good stuff and your standing as a photographer immediately increases. Pro's can shoot a load of rubbish like anyone else; they just don't show it to anybody.

There are 3 basic ways to arrange the elements within your composition.
  • Physically move objects relative to each other. Only really works with still life photography.
  • Tell people to move relative to each other or other objects. Only works with people who can hear you.
  • Move ! Usually the most effective way to control your composition is to alter your viewpoint.
That last one is probably the easiest and yet most important. How often have you thought 'that would make a great picture' then put your camera to your eye and taken a photograph. Loads of times, you see people do it all the time. By all means do that but right after doing it take a wander about and see if you can improve on your original composition by changing your viewpoint. You may be surprised how much difference walking a few metres can make.

Fill the frame.
Sometimes your mind tends to exaggerate what you see through the viewfinder of your camera. You often perceive things a bit bigger than they actually are and you also tend not to notice 'slight' distractions. What you end up with is photographs with huge areas of wasted space around the edge and people with things growing out of their heads. Make sure your subject fills the frame. The best way to do this is to move a bit closer. Before you press that shutter release have a quick look round the edge of the frame and behind your subject. Make sure that you don't have acres of space full of nothing interesting and check for 'stuff' intruding into your masterpiece. In our wonderful 3 dimensional world that telegraph pole is away in the background; in your flat 2 dimensional photograph that same pole is sticking out of someone.

Note: Most SLR camera viewfinders don't actually give you 100% coverage of the image area. Cut-off between 2% and 5% is common. The exact figure will be found in your camera handbook. In practice this means if you position something right at the edge of the frame when you get your photos back you may have unexpected space at the edges of the negative or transparency. Coincidentally, commercial printing equipment masks the edge of the negative during printing and may actually cancel out the aforementioned cut-off. It may now seem a bit pointless telling you this but you should be aware of it, particularly if you are going to print from your own negatives or you are shooting transparency (slide) film.

There's more. If you are having your prints processed commercially then you should realise that the proportions of a 35mm negative (2:3) don't always match those of some popular print sizes. If you want your prints to match what you saw through the viewfinder you will need to ask for "full frame" prints.

As a wee example: A 35mm negative printed to show the full frame onto 10x8 inch paper will produce an image closer to 10x6 inches

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