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Beginner's Guide to Photography - Composition No.1

Updated on October 29, 2017
Dave Proctor profile image

Dave is a experienced professional photographer, now semi-retired and living the high life in sunny Spain

Tell your story

Good photographs will invariably tell a story.

To get your story across, you need to ask yourself a number of questions, the answers to these questions will then guide as to how to set your camera, how to frame the subject and what else is needed to get the shot (e.g. pulling funny faces to get a child to smile!)

Why are you taking this photograph? The first question when you see a possible shot, is what am I taking and what is the story I want to tell.

Examples could be, things like: I want to show people at home how beautiful my holiday resort is; I want to take a picture to put into my photographic club's competition; I want to advertise my son's sports club.

Who are you taking it for? Here I will give you two examples and why this question would dictate how you frame your shot:



If I was taking a photograph for the Dance school's programme, I would frame it like this
If I was taking a photograph for the Dance school's programme, I would frame it like this
But if it were for one of the little girl's parents, I would want to highlight her
But if it were for one of the little girl's parents, I would want to highlight her

What is your message or story? Again you should think about the story you want to convey and how you could do this in the photograph, here are my examples;


Hurricane damage to a School bus (fortunately it was empty at the time), Dominica
Hurricane damage to a School bus (fortunately it was empty at the time), Dominica
We chose the little one in the middle
We chose the little one in the middle

To expand on this aspect, think about the last holiday you had or the last restaurant you went to, then imagine that you wanted to show photos which were for the purposes of:

  • Showing your friends, what a lovely time you had with your friends and/or family
  • Showing your friends how good the food was
  • to accompany a critic's review of the place
  • To advertise the establishment for their new brochure or web-site
  • To support a complaint

I would suggest that you should have five completely different images in your head!

When?


Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you see the shot and you take it, or you are at an event and you have to take the picture as it happens.

However, there are times when you can chose when to take the shot and it is then that this question becomes more relevant.

The phrase ' in the cold light of day' could have been coined by a photographer, particularly under the bright summer sun, the highlights will be harsh with the colours washed out, the shadows strong and really intense.

However, there is a time immediately after sunrise and then just before sunset, when the angle of the sun causes the light to become warm and reddish. The shadows will lengthen and will not be quite so harsh (photographers actually call it the 'Golden hour'.) This will also have the affect of intensifying the colours, particularly in a landscape.

It is also worth considering the weather when you are taking pictures, light cloud can be fantastic for certain photographs, heavy cloud intensifies drama, Rain can create its' own special affects as can mist and fog.

Please do not automatically think that sunny, bright days are the best for taking photographs, sometimes, they are not.

So it really is worth considering how you could take the photograph in the best possible light

Here are some examples of how the light changes and the affect on the photographs.



Resort beach, day-time (Mexico)
Resort beach, day-time (Mexico)
Same beach, just after sunrise.
Same beach, just after sunrise.
Venice an hour before sunset
Venice an hour before sunset
Arenal Beach, Costa Blanca, evening
Arenal Beach, Costa Blanca, evening
Here I wanted to show the heat, with the  Iguana basking in the sunshine, so took this picture in the bright light of the midday sun.
Here I wanted to show the heat, with the Iguana basking in the sunshine, so took this picture in the bright light of the midday sun.

Why Compose a photograph?

To summarise, I believe that there are two aspects to Composition.

The first is to highlight the story we are hoping to tell and really importantly we need to consider who the photograph was taken for, so that viewer readily understands the story and your message.

The second aspect is to make the photograph aesthetically pleasing. To achieve this there are various 'rules'. These stem the world of Art and have almost been formulated over the centuries.

This course is a beginner's guide. The subject matter of artistic composition is so complex that there are whole books that have been written on the subject.

In the next modules, we will look at the Elementary Rules of Composition and how they can be easily applied to your photographs.




© 2017 Dave Proctor

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