Photography gained the interest of many scientists and artists from its inception. Scientists have used photography to record and study movements, such as Eadweard Muybridge’s study of human and animal locomotion in 1887. Artists are equally interested by these aspects but also try to explore avenues other than the photo-mechanical representation of reality, such as the pictorialist movement.
Military, police and security forces use photography for surveillance, recognition and data storage. Photography is used to preserve memories of favourites and as a source of entertainment. In its simplest definition, a composition is a combination, or arrangement, of elements. Photographic composition is the arrangement of visual elements and as such is the product of a photographer’s vision and their skill in seeing, identifying, arranging, and framing the finished image. This is a clearly distinct skill from those necessary to successfully operate a camera or calculate exposure. In general, good pictures result from careful attention to some basic elements of composition, together with appropriate lighting and an interesting subject. There is, However, no “right” way to take a picture. Three photographers recording the same scene may create equally appealing photographs with entirely different composition.
- Point of Interest: Identify a primary point of interest before taking the picture. When you’ve determined which area is the most important to you, you can compose to emphasize it. studying advertising photographs is a good way to get acquainted with an emphasis on composition.
- Simplicity: Be sure that only the things you want the viewer to see appear in the picture. If there are numerous objects cluttering up the background, your message will be lost. If you can’t find an angle or framing to isolate your subject, consider using depth of field control to keep the background out of focus.
- Contrast: A light subject will have more impact if placed against a dark background and vice versa. Contrasting colours may be used for emphasis but can become distracting if not considered carefully.
- Balance: Generally, asymmetric or informal balance is considered more pleasing in a photograph than symmetric formal balance. In other words, placing the main subject off-centre and balancing the “weight” with other objects with smaller or lower impact will be more effective than placing the subject in the centre.
- Framing: A “frame” in a photograph is something in the foreground that leads you into the picture or gives you a sense of where the viewer is. For example, a branch and some leaves framing a shot of rolling hills and a valley, or the edge of an imposing rock face leading into a shot of a canyon. Framing can usually improve a picture. The “frame” doesn’t need to be sharply focused. In fact, if it is too sharply detailed, it could be a distraction.
- Viewpoint: You can often change a picture dramatically by moving the camera up or down or, stepping to one side. One of the best ways to come up with a prize-winning photograph is to find an “unusual” point of view.
- The direction of Movement: When the subject is capable of movements, such as an animal or person, it is best to leave space in front of the subject so it appears to be moving into, rather than out of, the photograph.
- Diagonals: Linear elements such as roads, waterways, and fences placed diagonally are generally perceived as more dynamic than horizontals.
- Rule of Thirds: This is a principle taught in graphic design and photography and is based on the theory that the eye goes naturally to a point about two-thirds up the page. Also, by visually dividing the image into thirds either vertically or horizontally you achieve the informal or asymmetric balance mentioned above. Although there are many ways a photograph can be composed effectively by basing it on the use of “thirds,” the most common example is the placement of the horizon line in landscape photography. If the area of interest is land or water, the horizon line will usually be two-thirds up from the bottom. On the other hand, if the sky is the area of emphasis, the horizon line may be one-third up from the bottom, leaving the sky to occupy the top two-thirds.
- Visualizations: It has been said that a really good photographer can make a picture with a pinhole camera made from a shoe box. Currently, a good photographer can make a good image of anything that he can see. But seeing requires an “eye.” One has to “see”the picture before the shutter is released. Not everyone sees the subject in the same way, and not everyone can see the picture. But most people can learn to “see” through training and experience. It is a slow process that has its own reward. The point in “seeing” is well illustrated when we come upon an interesting subject. The immediate reaction is to make several exposures on the spot. But it is far better to pause and examine the subject from different points of view, from different angles, and to walk around it if it is not too big or at least to view it over 180 degrees.
Observe the lighting as you change positions; observe the foreground, the background, and the composition. Use a punched out ready mount for framing, and by moving it back and forth you will know how long a lens you need. This is where the zoom lens is better since you can fill the frame exactly without moving. Then, with the camera on a tripod, make your exposure. Do not handhold; the best lens will not produce a critically sharp image if there is the slightest movement of the camera. How many slides of the same subject do you need? Two or three at the most if they are intended for competition. It is quality, not quantity that counts. The latter is a waste of film. It has been heard about people bragging that they shot 60 rolls of film on a 12-day trip. That is five rolls per day, 180 exposures. Certainly, there were not 180 subjects; so many shots had to be made of each subject. It is true that we are often advised to take lots of films, twice as much as we think we need. But that does not mean that we should use all of it. It is simply insurance that we do not run out of the film.
Bracketing is good insurance for the best results in difficult lighting situations, but hardly necessary for everything. However, it is good photography to make more than one shot of a subject from different angles and at different image sizes with a zoom lens. What about indoor workshops and home setups where the photographer has complete control over everything? Visualization plays an important part in still life photography as well. We usually visualize the image before setting up the subject and photographing it. Many great photographs have been made this way. Another technique is to create a subject from workshop materials. Visualization means to form a mental image. Please note that there is no such word as previsualization. When you have complete control there is no need to bracket exposures. To do so shows the uncertainty of technique.
The art of seeing extends also to competition, both in the camera club and in other competitions, including international exhibitions, where some judges are long-on “rules” and short on creativity; long on triteness; short on constructive criticism and weak on aesthetics. Have you heard a judge say “I don’t know what this is” when an abstract, creative image appears on the screen, such as crystals? He/she is at a loss for words. At least the judge could comment on compositional elements such as line, colour and mass. New concepts appear from time to time and represent progress. We must be on the alert for them and be objective and free from bias. Cameras at the top of the line are expensive precision instruments for both advanced amateur and professional photographers.
Such cameras should not be bought for status symbols. When all is said and done about photography, precision cameras are still only sophisticated tools. Less expensive cameras can produce equally good photographs for the average worker. A skilful, creative and aesthetic person is required in order to utilize the camera’s features to full advantage. Simply pointing and shooting, letting the camera do the rest automatically often does not produce prize-winning images. The camera does not think, but is the tool of the thinking photographer who can formulate in his/her
mind a superior image.