Novice photographers often struggle with the mechanics behind the art form, trying to catch that one elusive shot that transforms their work from the straightforward to the sublime. Although it’s great to know how to work your camera, there’s a lot more to photography than memorizing what situations call for ISO 100 versus ISO 1600 or constantly tweaking your aperture. Without a strong understanding of composition, all the technical details are meaningless.
Upping Your Photographic Framing Game
Photography, like any art, is really more about understanding how to achieve the effects you’re after. If you can imagine the perfect shot, you can achieve it — you just need a little help with the dynamics of photographic composition. So, without further ado, here are some of our favorite tips to help dramatically improve your photography:
Regarding the Rule of Thirds
First, understand that this is not so much a rule as a suggestion and even at that, it’s a little wobbly. The rule asks you to imagine a grid on the viewfinder that’s divided three ways vertically and three ways horizontally, so you’ve got nine squares. Some modern digital cameras even have this grid as an optional overlay, so if you’ve got it, great for you.
The idea behind the rule of thirds is to put the main element of your composition on one of the four interior intersections. It’s supposed to get you into the mindset of shooting off-center, but there’s no photographer worth their salt that sticks to this formula religiously. So, think of it as more of a guide to moving your main elements out of the center of the frame than steadfast and unbreakable scripture.
Mind the Lines
Most people go through their whole lives never noticing all the lines around them, but as photographers, it’s our job to see these ever-present elements. Lines move the eye across the photograph, they emphasize those things that people should see and they can seriously distract your intention if they’re in the wrong place.
Lines should never be accidental — in fact, before you even lift your camera, mind the whole scene. Find the lines with your eyes and watch how they lift and fall. Lines can make or ruin a photograph and if you don’t see them before you shoot, you’ll sure see them afterward — and wish you hadn’t ruined a beautiful opportunity.
Find the Best Light
Every photographer eventually figures out what type of light he or she prefers. You can’t master working with flashes, natural light and studio lighting all at once, there’s too much to learn in each area. Instead, find a light that you love, and work with it until you have a feel for what’s new and novel.
That interesting light can add a real kick to the right photo, but only you can be the judge of that. Whether that’s bright light coming in from a window creating lines on the floor or soft light bouncing off an illuminated fountain, these unusual light sources can help add depth and interest to your images, as well as bring that picture in your head to life.
Sometimes the Background is the Foreground
When you’re out on a shoot, even if it’s just a hike plus camera, don’t forget to look around you. Laser focusing on your subject can blind you to so many other opportunities. Sometimes, what you’re really looking for is in the background and not in the foreground.
For example, if you’re shooting farm machinery in a field full of recently cut and wrapped hay bales, bringing the equipment into the frame and shooting beyond it, to the thing it created, can make a beautiful and poignant shot.
The same goes for overhanging vegetation, fence lines, cars or anything else that you can see through — sometimes it’s a good idea to move that obvious stuff in the foreground into the background.
Shoot A Lot For The Best Shot
There was a time not that long ago when photographers were greatly limited by the number of rolls of film in their packs, but today’s digital cameras aren’t subject to that sort of problem. Depending on your storage capacity, you’ve got a virtually limitless ability to shoot, toss out garbage images on the fly and keep going.
And because you can, you should — but don’t just rapid fire your camera. Instead, make slight adjustments to the focus, the aperture, the shutter speed, the angle — whatever makes the most sense in the setup.
Take lots of photos, try lots of things and make sure to note the settings that work best for your subject. Paying attention to this information can help you become a stronger photographer and the many slightly different shots can help you appreciate the stunning differences a tiny change can make.
When you’re learning to frame a photograph, everybody and their uncle will happily offer advice on the subject. At the end of the day, there’s only one way to learn to compose a photograph — and that’s by doing it. Grab your camera, head out to your favorite shooting spot and have a ball mixing up your shots and trying new things to improve your photographic skills.