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Composition 1:

The Six Guidelines to Good Film, Video and Photographic Composition



The Art of Composition

The reason that some pictures are better than others is because of their composition.


Composition: good composition means a pleasing selection and arrangement of subjects within the picture area.



Composition is not restricted to photography. Architects have understood the fundamentals of composition for two thousands years before photography. Artist have used composition to give focus and balance to their paintings.




The Six Guidelines to Good Photographic Composition

  • 1. Simplicity
  • 2. Rule of Thirds
  • 3. Lines
  • 4. Balance
  • 5. Framing
  • 6. Mergers


1. Simplicity

Look for ways to give the center of interest the most attention. Select uncomplicated backgrounds that will not divert attention from your main subject. Improve the picture below on the left with visual simplicity.


A. Choose one subject and get close.

Find ways to simplify your pictures. Decide which object is your subject. Is your subject the cactus, the palm or the phone? By moving in closer and using the sky as the background we have simplified this photograph.



Is the reason for taking the picture clearly seen? In the picture on the left what is the subject? By getting closer the reason is apparent in the picture on the right.



B. Change the angle of view.

By changing our angle of view and again using the plain sky as the background we have simplified this photograph.





C. Change the Camera height.




D. Change the depth of field.

There are only three factors that directly effect depth of field. Anything else effects these three factors.

  • 1. The fstop.
  • 2. The size of the lens.
  • 3. The distance to the subject.

Study the examples below.



1. Change the fstop.

Small fstop openings ( i.e. f22, f16, f11, f8) give greater depth of field.


Large fstop openings ( i.e. f5.6, 4, 2.8, 2, 1.4) give shallow depth of field.


Ways to change the fstop.

  • a. Use a faster shutter speed. Remember, changing the shutter speed does not change the depth of field. Only the fstop can change depth of field. Changing the shutter speed can force the equivalent exposure to use different fstops which in turn give different depths of field.
  • b. Use a neutral density filter. Neutral density filters are like sunglasses for your camera lens. It will force your exposure to use slower shutter speeds and larger fstop openings.

2. Use a different focal length lens.


a. A longer focal length lens gives shallow depth of field.


b. A shorter focal length lens gives greater depth of field.



3. Change the distance to the subject.

a. A closer distance gives shallow depth of field.


b. A greater distance gives greater depth of field.



2. Rule of thirds.

Break you picture into thirds both horizontally and vertically.

  • A. Horizontally.
    Decide what part of the picture is most important: (i.e. Sky or Land.) If the picture is about the sunset, use more picture space for the sky. If the picture is about the location, the land should take up more space.
  • B. Vertically.
    Consider placing objects that give scale or frame the subject in the left or right thirds.
  • C. Horizontally and Vertically.
    The intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines create four key points of interest. These are places where great artists of the past have traditionally chosen to place the subject. You should consider the same. Consider if your subject works in one of these four points.

The subject in the picture below is centered and static.



By moving the subject to the bottom left, the picture looks more interesting.



By moving the subject to the upper right, the picture improves even more. It could be used to emphasize the desk and how much work the subject has to do.



The sea gull below is centered. Even though the guideline of simplicity is observed the picture is static and uninteresting.



By moving him to the right we can see his complete shadow and more of his tracks. The picture is more interesting.



The off center placement of the lighthouse helps the composition but the sky gives a place for the light to go.



In the first picture below the sail boat and the horizon line are in the center of the picture. Consider the placement of subject and horizon line in the other two pictures. Place horizon lines high or low but rarely in the center. What is the purpose of your picture. Is the sky the most important element or is the land? Give more space to the area you are trying to emphasize.



The same guideline that applies to horizontal lines applies to vertical lines. Place them off center.



Moving subjects need more space in the direction they are moving. The jogger below left looks like she will run out of the picture, below right gives room for the subject to move. Always consider the path of moving subjects.



3. Lines The eye tends to follow a line. The line creates specific attributes to a picture.



A. Emotional Lines.

Horizontal lines. Stability, quite , balance , rest.



Vertical lines. Power , hope , Dominance.


Diagonal lines. Action.


Intersecting diagonal lines. Violent action.



Parallel lines. Sympathy, understanding, acceptance.


Lines emitting from the center, Joy.


B. Lines of grace. Add grace to the scene. �S� and �C� shaped lines.


C. Converging lines. Give depth and dimension.


D. Lines that frame. Add depth and keep the eye within the scene.


E. Geometric shapes. Lines that close or intersect create geometric shapes.

As the eye travels from subject to subject it forms a geometric shape.



When the same geometric shape is repeated it is reassuring to the eye.




4. Balance.

Good photography exists when the camera's view point and the subject placement are carefully selected to balance all of the elements in the picture.


Balance is the arrangement of shapes, colors, or areas of light and dark in a complimentary way.


As in this balanced photograph.



unbalanced balanced



Lack of support - unbalanced Added Support - balanced


Symmetrical Balance divides the viewers attention. These pictures could be divided into two pictures. Avoid Symmetrical balance.



Symmetrical Balance divides the picture. Try to unify the picture.


Unified Balance



Formal Casual Unified Balance


Unified Balance is more interesting than Symmetrical Balance.



The near large image balances the distance small image. A large object near can be balanced by a small object far.




5. Framing.

Add depth and keeps the eye within the scene. Trees are used to frame the center of interest. The strong dark framing objects in the foreground give the depth it needs to be more than just another snap shot.



What you choose as a frame will vary.



The picture on the left is centered. The one on the right has more depth and tells a more complete story because of the foreground included in the picture.


Note how the principles of balance and line work in this picture as well.



The picture below would be a boring picture if it were not for the horses, riders and over hanging branches in the foreground. The framing objects give the picture depth.



There is often more than one way to frame an object. The choice is yours.




6. Mergers.

Objects that look like they are part of other objects.


A. Object mergers. Objects merging with the subject. Mergers occur because we see in three dimensions and focus our attention on the subject and not the background.



Solutions: 1. simplify the background 2. Use shallow depth of field.


B. Color mergers. Objects colors blend with the subject colors. Color mergers steal attention away from your subject.




Solutions: 1. Simplify the background. 2. Change the camera angle.



C. Border mergers. Subject cut off by cropping.


Solutions:

1. keep your eye close to the view finder. With video cameras make sure you know the safe area of your view finder and monitor.


2. Allow some extra space around your subjects.


3. Avoid Mergers.




The Six Guidelines to Good Photographic Composition

1. Simplicity

Look for ways to give the center of interest the most attention. Select uncomplicated backgrounds that will not divert attention from your main subject.

  • A. Choose one subject and get close.
  • B. Change the angle of view.
  • C. Change the camera height.
  • D. Change the depth of field.

2. Rule of Thirds

Break you picture into thirds both horizontally and vertically.

  • A. Horizontally. Decide what part of the picture is most important: (i.e. Sky or Land.) If the picture is about the sunset, use more picture space for the sky. If the picture is about the location, the land should take up more space.
  • B. Vertically. Consider placing objects that give scale or frame the subject in the left or right thirds.
  • C. Horizontally and Vertically. The intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines create four key points of interest. These are places where great artists of the past have traditionally chosen to place the subject. You should consider the same. Consider if your subject works in one of these four points.


3. Lines

The eye tends to follow a line. The line creates specific attributes to a picture.

  • A. Emotional Lines.
  • B. Lines of Grace.
  • C. Converging Lines.
  • D. Framing Lines.
  • E. Geometric Lines.


4. Balance

Good photography exists when the camera's view point and the subject placement are carefully selected to balance all of the elements in the picture. Balance is the arrangement of shapes, colors, or areas of light and dark in a complimentary way.

  • A. Avoid symmetrical balance.
  • B. Consider unified balance.


5. Framing

Add depth and keeps the eye within the scene. Trees are used to frame the center of interest. The strong dark framing objects in the foreground give the depth to make the picture more than just another snap shot.



6. Mergers

Objects that look like they are part of other objects.

  • A. Object mergers. Objects merging with the subject.
  • Mergers occur because we see in three dimensions and focus our attention on the subject and not the background.
  • B. Color mergers. Objects colors blend with the subject colors. Color mergers steal attention away from your subject.
  • C. Border mergers. Subject cut off by cropping.