What Defines Composition? – Photography 101

There was beautiful clouds in the sky last night which gave a layered effect of color; the colors were much more dramatic after the sun passed the horizon. Shortly after most of the visitors left the beach there was a group of paddle surfers that came through the Cape Henlopen Bay. I wasn't ready to leave yet so I stayed and watched the surfers approach the beach. As I watched them paddle in I thought a few motion silhouettes of the surfers would look pretty cool in setting sun, so I tried to get a few shots in. This one is my favorite.
Paddle Surfers in The Sunset created by: Melissa Fague – Landscape Photography

Centering your subject and snapping a picture is not composition, occasionally you may get lucky but more often than not you have to work at a well composed photograph. Good composition means getting rid of the clutter of a scene by capturing only the essential elements to tell the story. The basics of a well composed image are:
1. A well composed image should rarely need to be cropped in post-production to remove elements that distract from the story, such as a street sign or a car bumper protruding into the scene.
2. A well composed image has the background and the foreground working together in harmony; for example have you ever seen a photograph where the person is lined up perfectly with a tree or telephone pole in the background. In 2 dimensions it makes the person look like they have a growth coming out of their head.
3. A well composed image uses shapes, lines, colors, and or light to draw the views eyes into the photograph’s focal point.
4. In some cases, if action or time is involved, a well composed photograph is created by anticipation of the coming moments.

There are many moments over the past few years that I rushed to get a photograph or I was so focused on my subject that I failed to “see” everything that was going on in the scene. Once I was home and calmed I would start to see the distractions or errors that I had made during the shoot. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in learning from our mistakes, but there are moments that I photographed, and screwed up, that I will never be able to recreate.

My definition of a well composed image; it tells a story about a place, a person, or a thing. My objective with my photographs is to move the viewer emotionally so that he or she connects with your subject. If I’m capturing landscape photos I want my viewers to be able to envision themselves in that place. If I’m capturing nature and wildlife I want my viewers to be able to appreciate the wonderful details that is around us. With portraits or photographs that have people in them I want my viewer to feel the emotions of that person in the moment.

My advise; before you snap the shutter on your camera look at everything in the scene. Let your eyes travel the edge of the viewfinder to see if there are stray objects that don’t need to be there. Look in front of and past your subject, ask yourself are there any elements that are a distraction to my subject. If there are shapes or lines that can be incorporated into the photograph use them to draw the attention to your subject. Finally, judge the quality of light in the entire scene not just the light hitting your subject.

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