Vertical or Horizontal? Even or offset? Tack sharp or panning? What do you do?
The topic of composition in photography is one of never-ending debate.
Simply put, there is no right or wrong way to compose a photograph.
However the artist intended the image to appear is the way it is meant to be, yet human eyes are implicitly looking for objects to align a certain way.
When I compose a prospective image, I am the master at the controls; a magician whose goal is to sway and captivate the audience.
I will look for elements or items to be arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way, often at the expense of making more daring images. More on that later.
One thing that our vision accounts for is eye contact, whether it be a deer in the headlights or a flower facing our way. We crave that connection and feeling of intimacy. The photo is satiating a basic human need of belonging and focus.
Another example is numbers. We as viewers tend to enjoy odd numbers of things whether we know this or not. For this reason I will purposely crop out that forth bird in the flock to make three in a flyover shot.
Reasons for this are unbeknownst to me, however I can guess it has something to do settling on the way we expect chaos out of order.
Good things come in threes like the three stooges, amigos and most movie trilogies. The genie grants three wishes, Snow White has her seven dwarves, and I personally dislike writing out odd numbered years (doesn’t 2020 look so much better on paper than 2019?)
Numerology can play a big part in laying out an image, as there can be “too much” of such a thing, whether good or bad is for you too decide.
Playing off the two above examples, let’s say there is a single crane (bird, not construction) on the ground. You set up your gear just close enough without spooking it. You take the image of the beautiful crane going about its’ everyday business, feeding and standing etc.
Next thing, a second crane flies down to the same area. Now the two are engaging in a courtship display. How wonderful for you! Two is better than one right?
I’d reckon in this example and based off the all the facts, that the succeeding images will be far more powerful than before with just one crane.
Let’s get crazy and say that two is not enough. We want five more cranes to swoop down in the same general area. Now we’re talking about a good day out photographing!
As you wipe the drool that fell on your camera from gawking so much, we photograph this impressive newly-formed flock. Seven birds seems more interesting now more than ever.
Why? There’s an odd one out. Everything else is paired up except for the lonely one but he still is with the party.
Odd numbers create a sense of chaos and reality for our eyes to see.
Next up, one of my favorite words…
Juxtaposition: easily my favorite word to describe a photograph and composition in general.
Next word of choice would have to be dichotomy which is practically the same thing.
Anyways, these mean that there is a shakeup. A surprise to the viewer.
Something is not quite right, and we must find it out now.
In a way, I want to bug the viewer into searching more, as if they’re looking for something.
But Ryan that sounds terrible! Won’t people be less likely to look at your photos?
Not exactly. We as photo viewers want to see things arranged a certain way. Yet it is in our psyche to solve abstracts and puzzles. Essentially looking for meaning in the unknown and the illogical.
I could potentially flip my camera upside down and photograph a lake reflection with trees, keeping the horizon line straight in the middle and sell it off as the “true” orientation of the scene. I would bet most prospective lookers would argue that it was flipped, yet they know this because we are smarter than that.
An obvious example, however my goal and intent is not to treat the viewer as a fool, quite the opposite. I want to challenge them to see in new ways and to connect the dots as to what they’re looking at.
As photographers, we do that by creatively composing our photographs.
In essence, composition to me is all about challenging the viewer and myself while thinking through the image in the field.
Photographers, what are your favorite compositional techniques?
And photo viewers, what do you like to see most in a photograph?
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