Shoot like a Pro

Composing photos

Written by Jarrell Conley

Good composition ranks right up there with getting the subject in focus, and nothing detracts from your picture more than “clutter.” A photographer should pay as much attention to distracting elements in their compositions as they do the subject itself.

duckI’m a great believer in the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method of creating photographs, especially when it comes to composition.

To me, good composition ranks right up there with getting the subject in focus, and nothing detracts from your picture more than “clutter.” At the top of my list are cluttered backgrounds and I believe a photographer should pay as much attention to distracting elements in their compositions as they do the subject itself.

Selective seeing

We all, at times, fall victim to selective seeing. We look at a scene and we pay close attention to the main subject, failing to really see what is behind or in front of it. If there are elements within the frame that do not add to the picture, the chances are great that they are detracting from it by diverting the viewers attention away from the main subject.

We are all familiar with the classic examples of this, the utility pole growing out of Aunt Gertrude’s head or the fence railing going in one of Uncle Elroy’s ears and out the other. They look funny, but not the kind of photo that’ll get rave reviews in your album, especially from Elroy and Gertrude.

clownAfter 40 years in photography, when I see a subject that I think has possibilities, I automatically look at the background and the foreground. If they are not to my liking I will go out of my way to change my shooting position, either getting down lower, up higher, or to the side.

In the case of the Peking Duck above, the background was filled with the typical farm machinery, old boxes, tires and tools of all descriptions. By getting the camera low and using the sky as a background the composition was kept simple and the picture has much more impact because there are no distractions.

For the picture of the street clown I politely asked him to move to a spot a few feet away that had a dark background and I used tight framing to further increase impact. Doing these simple things will improve your photographs immensely. I realize the photographer cannot always do these things but should try to do them whenever possible.

oldtimersReducing unused space in the photograph is another way to improve it. In the picture of the old saw and barn almost every pixel is taken up with the subject with very little to divert the viewers gaze away from what I intended them to see.

There are times though, that having space around your subject suits the picture very well, as in this photograph of a glass of tea and its shadow taken on my front porch. But the composition was kept very simple and balanced and no distractions were allowed.

Keeping your picture uncluttered and simple in its message is just one way, along with accurate focus, the rule of thirds, and correct exposure…of getting that extra WOW! in your shots.

teaGive “keep it simple” a try and I think you’ll be amazed at how much improvement you’ll see. More improvement than buying the latest camera or a new lens, more than just about any one thing you can do.

It really is very simple!

Visit our Photo Composition Gallery for sample photos with stunning composition.

About the author

Jarrell Conley

Jarrell is a resident of central Georgia, USA. He started in photography in 1961 courtesy of the U.S. Navy at its Photo School in Pensacola, Florida.
There he learned all of the basics of photography including darkroom work and over the years has sold cameras and related equipment on the retail level. He has also taken his share of weddings and some product photography.

 

Jarrell
came to digital photography in 1999. His first camera was a 1.3 MP Fuji. He went on to the Nikon CoolPix line, the 990 and the 5700, both of which he still has. Jarrell currently uses the Nikon D100 dSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera but it his
firm belief that "it does not matter what brand or type camera you're using as far as making good pictures."

As a photographer, Jarrell considers himself somewhere between an advanced amateur and a semi-professional. He is an active participant
in forums where he help others learn about digital photography.

Thumbnails are of photos by Jarrell Conley - used with permission.
Copyright Jarrell Conley. All rights reserved