Composition Basics 101:Part 1

How do we make sure that the photos we take are more than just a snap?

In the first of a new series of blogs on composition I shall be exploring some of the techniques and ideas that can help elevate your photos from a snapshot to a well considered image.

But first - I want to say that snapshots are not bad per se - sometimes that’s all we have time to capture. I have always said if it’s the difference between not getting the shot or capturing the memory or moment, then always, always take the shot.

I’ve recently been going through my dad’s photo albums and sorting the images out. Many are not ‘perfect’ shots but to him, at that moment they were important. Now they are not with me any longer, I treasure the slightly fuzzy, not perfect images of both my parents and those of my childhood.

The digital age of photography made us a generation inclined to snap photos ad infinitum - it doesn’t cost us anything more than using up the memory on our devices. But the side effect of this is that we don’t always stop and look before we snap - we see something, we shoot it and sometimes the result leaves us feeling a bit ‘meh’. So let's start with a simple technique.

Think about Your Angle of View

You see the image, now pause and look to see if you actually have the best view of it - what if you change your angle of view - to the left or right? What if you shoot from higher up or lower down?

What if you move closer or further away? How does that change your perspective of your view, subject - are you noticing anything different?

Let’s look at this in practice:

Rapeseed and clouds

I took this photo many years ago for a project. It wasn’t until I got low to shoot up through the rapeseed flowers that I really noticed the amazing cloud formation above it - which made the shot more compelling - the clouds shape mirroring the formation of the stems of rapeseed.

The bench

This local lake has been really popular during lockdown. I had gone on this afternoon to shoot a photo story.

For once the bench was empty and I saw a possible shot. I chose to shoot long rather than move closer - this enabled me to include the well trampled path leading to the bench (more on leading lines to come in another blog post). And the enclosing trees and shrubs also mirrored the circular shape of the lake.

Moving closer would have given me less of the sense of empty spaces that this view gave me.

Moving to the left would have introduced lots of people on the right hand bank of the lake - many in brightly coloured clothing as well as the lifesaver rings mounted both near the bench and on the shore. This would have changed the focus of attention of the image.

Moving to the right may have given me a more symmetrical view of the bench by placing it in the centre of the frame but would have lost some of the lake and introduced the fishermen on the left of the lake - again changing the emphasis of the photo.

The possible shots of this one bench - by just changing position are many as you can see. What if I had chosen to sit on the bench to get a bench eye view?

So next time you see a shot - have a look to see what others there might be by changing your angle of view - some of the results might be even better than the first one!

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All images © Sarah Holmes 2021 No reproduction without prior permission.