Blog #2: Composition!
A big part of photography is how we compose (or position) our subjects and other elements within an image. When we're taking pictures with our phone or camera, there's always a strong urge to put the subject directly in the centre of the frame, whilst this usually does "work" for most photographs, when we get creative with where we place things in the frame, it really makes a big difference to how pleasing to the eye they are for the viewer. The topic of composition rules can be very complex, and some are related to the style, or school, of photography to which they belong (e.g. modern portraiture, abstract, street, etc.), and others are based on mathematical calculations (like the Fibonacci sequence). I, though, tend to use a few basic composition rules when capturing pictures of Arthur & Sybbie, and like a magician breaking the rules, I'll share them with you here if you're interested.
1. Cream of the Crop
Two of the most basic composition rules that everyone should be aware of relate to how much of a subject is "chopped off" at the edges of a frame and also how "straight" objects are in an image. Both of these are controlled by what is referred to in photography as "The Crop" of an image, and can be captured in camera at the time of shooting, but will likely need adjustment afterwards using "The Crop Tool" in your preferred editing software, or your phone's photo editing features. Nearly every image I capture needs some form of crop adjustment, making this an essential part of capturing good photos!
Common Portrait Crops
In photography, there are generally four types of people portrait: The Full Body; The Half-Body; The Three-Quarter Length, and the Headshot. As the name suggests, a Full Body Portrait contains the whole subject in the frame, from head to toe. The Half-Body cuts the subject off at the midriff or waist; The Three-Quarter Length portrait usually cuts off at a subject's mid-thigh or knees; and the Headshot, at the neck or shoulders. Cutting off a subject at any other point, particularly at the ankles, or chopping off hands at the wrist, is usually a photography faux-pas, but is an easy mistake to make, and sometimes, just can't be helped, particularly if your subjects are different heights. Where possible, you should always adjust the crop of an image manually in editing tools to position the edge of the frame where you want it, or where it looks right.
Another faux-pas in photography is not paying attention to straight lines in an image, particularly the horizon, or any other line that should be horizontally or vertically square. Basically speaking, any line that is straight and square in real life, should be straight and square in an image! This largely depends on how OCD you are, but for me, wonky lines often drive me mad, and are an easy fix in the crop tool of your phone or editing software. This is particularly important for objects or buildings in the environment, but you can get away with it a bit more in woodland, where trees don't often grow straight up! This is one of the most common mistakes that I see - wonky lines draw the eye away from a subject, which detracts from the whole image.
2. The Rule of Thirds
This is a basic and very effective composition rule that works really well. If you have a scroll through a few of my photos, you'll likely notice that Arthur and Sybbie are rarely positioned directly in the centre of the frame - they are usually off to one side, around a third of the way in from either the left or right. The easiest way to get to grips with this is to go into your camera or mobile phone camera settings and turning on "gridlines". This functions places evenly-spaced vertical and horizontal lines across the frame, splitting it into nine boxes. Placing a subject on one of these lines is a visual sweet spot, and placing a subject, or something of interest (like an eye or a head) on a point where these lines intersect (or cross), is also a very visually pleasing technique. It is important to remember that this is only a guide and some subjects really benefit from being in the centre of a frame, particularly if it's a close-up portrait, or there's symmetry surrounding the subject. You can of course, ignore these rules completely to create something more abstract - that is the beauty of photography - it's ultimately what makes you happy! It's also good to remember that you can fine tune your composition when editing your photos, using the "crop" tools either in your editing software, or in your phone's photo editing settings.
3. Centre Compositions
Like I mentioned above, placing a subject or object of interest in the centre of the frame can work, particularly if there is symmetry surrounding the subject. This tends to be the case on bridges or for natural aisles created by trees. In cases like these, there is also a good chance that leading lines can also be created that draw a viewers eyes to the subject (see 5., below). Another useful technique for portraits is to place a subject's eye in the centre of the frame. This technique emphasises the face and creates a strong sense that the subject is looking directly at the viewer, regardless from which angle the image is viewed.
4. Fibonacci Ratio
Also called "The Golden Ratio" or the "The Golden Spiral", the Fibonacci Ratio is a mathematical equation that can help photographers identify where best to place their subjects. The ratio is equal to 1:618:1 and occurs in a repeating, cyclical pattern that resembles a snail shell. Even if, like me, maths isn't your strong point, the spiral itself can be a useful visual tool for composing images that are pleasing to the eye. Some mobile apps, like Lightroom Mobile, can overlay this spiral pattern onto your phone camera in a similar fashion to the gridlines (mentioned above) to help you place your subjects accordingly.
5. Positive & Negative Space
You can also use space in your images to create contrast and emphasise subjects. Areas that lack detail are known as negative space, and areas with more detail are known as positive space. Subjects usually fall into the positive space category, and when placed against negative spaces, such as areas of sky or long stretches of sand on a beach, create strong contrast. This technique is also effective in black and white photographs, which are often used to emphasise contrasting tones. I tend to use this technique more for wedding photography, where the opportunities to find negative space for images is greater than in the woods or forests I frequent with the kids for foraging. You can also create negative space using focus and depth of field techniques that blur the background, and therefore reduce detail, but that is a subject for another blog post!
6. LEADING LINES
I like to think of images as a journey, that take viewers on a bit of an adventure. A lot of my images are "environmental portraits" - they feature Arthur & Sybbie, but also take in some of the locations we explore, too. I want your eyes to explore the image, following paths, or trees, before eventually honing-in on the actual subjects, whether that be Arthur or Sybbie, a mushroom, or something else. To help you do this, I try to take advantage of what are known as "leading lines" - lines or pathways that your eye can travel along to reach the subject. This helps you explore the image more and enjoy a more visually enticing experience. Leading lines can be anything, from paths, trails, fences, tree branches, arms or legs, or arched hedgerows that highlight a subject. Next time you're taking photos, try to find some items in the foreground or background of your scene that can be used to lead your viewer's eyes towards your subject - it really works!
7. Frame Within a Frame
Placing subjects within a frame inside an image can be a very pleasing visual technique that can emphasise the subject(s). Although this is particularly suited to more urban environments (think door frames, windows and other geometric shapes), it is possible to find natural frames in woodland and other outdoor environments, too, although it may require a little creativity! These natural frames will often take the form of hollow tree trunks, rock crevices and caves, or even archways created by the leafy canopies of trees or hedgerows.
8. Colour, Shape or Texture
On occasion, a dominant colour (or colours) can be used to compose an image. I usually do this with wild food finds, particularly mushrooms, as they can be easily grouped by colour. Grouping subjects by shape and texture can also be an effective compositional technique, which is another great use for mushrooms, as they can be grouped to form colourful, almost abstract circles, with the gills or pores creating interesting repetitive textures.
As big, long-leggidy adult humans, we naturally lean towards standing-up when we take photos. Doing this creates an "adult human perspective" in our images - pictures taken from the viewpoint of an adult. This way of shooting however, often creates rather "vanilla" images for viewers, because it's taken from a vantage point they are very used to seeing everyday - it's therefore nothing really unique to them, and doesn't capture the imagination. This situation is even more amplified if we are taking pictures of children, as it will mostly provide a "top down" view of them, due to us being much taller than our little cherubs. When I'm photographing Arthur and Sybbie, I spend the majority of my time lying on my stomach (usually in mud!), or sitting, or squatting. I do this to create a "child's perspective" of the world. My ultimate goal is to create images that conjure emotive thoughts of a magical childhood, and I can't really do that from an adult's perspective, so I have to get down on their level! Sometimes, a top-down view can work for creative portraits, but the general rule for photographing children that I keep in my head is "Low-Down is the Crown". The same is true for other subjects, like mushrooms and flowers - for impactful photos, we need to view these from a perspective we're not used to seeing, and that usually involves being a bit of a contortionist!
That's all for now - I can waffle-on about photography all day, but I certainly don't want to bore you. If any of you have any queries or comments, feel free to email or DM me on social media @thegrizzlyforager! I'd also love for you to post a few of your pics if you've put these tips into practice!