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Use Composition Creatively

Framing your image makes a huge difference in how appealing your subject is and how attractive the overall photo will be. Allow yourself time to try different croppings and see what looks best. Stand in different positions to change the background or zoom in and out to help you decide what is essential and what is distracting. Remember to leave a little excess on the far ends of the image in case you enlarge it from a 4 x 6 to a 5 x 7 or an 8 x 10, where you stand to lose up to 1/5 of the overall picture.

Below you can see how standing in a different spot made the same rocks look dramatically different. The top photo's composition is rather bland. In the lower photo the eye is drawn in by the large close rock on the left and continues to follow the diagonal "line" of the rocks as they go off into the distance.

garden of the gods - broad angle

garden of the gods - narrow angle

A general rule of thumb to follow is to place the main point of interest near one of four points in the frame as shown in the diagram. This is commonly known as the rule of thirds . The barn is roughly one third from the left and top. Also, note how the river draws the viewer's eye into the photo.

rule of thirds diagram

barn - rule of thirds

An overly busy background can greatly detract from your subject. You can crop the image to cut out unnecessary objects. Or you can resort to PhotoShop and blur or darken distracting portions. The cropped orchid shows off the beauty of the flower better than the full shot.

yellow orchid - full shot is too busy yellow orchid cropped


elk under tree - bad composition Pay attention to where your subject is placed in relation to surrounding objects . Putting one item directly above another rarely works as is evident with the tree directly above the elk's head.

orchids too close too edge Also note how close your subject is to the photo's borders . Give it room to breathe. The proximity of these orchids to the borders is distracting.


palmer park foreground interest If the subject is somewhat boring on its own, search for foliage or architecture that can be used to create foreground interest . Trees are good foreground subjects for designing a natural frame, but if you want everything in focus, focus on the closest object and set the aperture to F18 or higher.

maroon bells - symmetry Sometimes symmetry is the best choice for presenting your subject. Occasionally, I will place mountain peaks, a river or path in the center of the picture if the mountains are imposing enough on their own or the river or path are bordered by interesting rocks and foliage on each side. Here the mountains are framed nicely on both sides by steep hillsides and the clear reflection ads to the beauty of symmetry.

pineapple - symmetry Even a small pineapple can be stately enough to hold center stage. The plant's blades below enhance the symmetry and the monochromatic coloration adds unique interest and helps the viewer notice the variety of textures.


hot air ballon - rule of thirds The hot air balloon photo shows how centering the balloon works well with the rule of thirds as the mountains cover close to the lower third of the frame.

dark eyed junco - blurred branches Composition is also affected by the depth of field . By opening the aperture wider (F2.8 to F5.6), the background will be blurred so the subject stands out, eliminating unnecessary distractions. The longer the focal length of a lens, the less the background will be in focus using the same f-stop. So a 300mm lens will have a very blurry background with the aperture set to F5.6 (nice for portrait shots), but it will be much clearer if set to F5.6 with a standard 18 - 70mm lens, for example.

Noting patterns can provide interest to a composition. Aligning several similar objects and making them gradually blur toward the background can look pleasing as with these flowers.

flower repeated



rocks texture - abstract Or you can focus on textures in nature and take abstract photos by getting closer to your subject as I did with this section of rock along a reservoir.

But when it comes to artistic license, rules are meant to be broken at times, so these are just some guidelines to incorporate as needed. I tend to be more intuitive than calculating as I compose my photos (keeping composition guidlines in the back of my mind), experimenting with varied angles and croppings, which I think makes the whole process more fun.



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