Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How to take better pictures: Composition

Today I want to talk about some basics of good photography. We're going to talk about composition because most people would be amazed at how much their photographs would improve if they just paid a little more attention to composition. It doesn't matter if you are using an expensive DSLR, a moderate Point-and-Shoot or a camera phone because composition has nothing to do with technology. If you want to take better pictures, start with a few simple techniques...

I think that most people tend to fall into the trap of thinking that a good picture should be a close-up. Parents in particular ride that "zoom" button like their waiting for an elevator. Close-ups are good, sure, but we need to capture more... we need to show enviroment, situation and motion. We need to expand beyond the retorical and into the reality of space and how it effects us. We need to stop writing "we" and trying to sound all pretentious and educated and... and... stuff. Still reading? Good job! I stopped about three sentences ago.

It's not artsy or visionary or anything like that. It's simple and it looks like this:

Why does this picture work? First, the subject is placed at the correct spot in the picture. How do you know where the correct spot is? Like this:

There's a name for this little diagram but I'm not going to tell you what it is because I want you to look it up for yourself in case there's a pop quiz. Also, it's possible I forgot it. Anyway, take any picture and draw two sets of lines on it. Where the lines meet is where you want something important. (Boy, I am laying down the smack with the technical terms!) It's true, very rarely do you want the subject of your picture in the dead center. The picture will almost always be more interesting if you place them off center at one of the intersections (or close to one). It doesn't have to be the whole subject either... maybe it's a close up and you just place the center of their forehead at an intersection. Doesn't matter as long as you place something there. This takes no artistic talent whatsoever and while you may have to remind yourself to do it at first, eventually it will become second nature and you will just naturally compose this way. Also, if you play tic-tac-toe you should always start at a corner (that's a freebie right there). The other thing you can work on is tilting the camera:

Notice how the slide starts in the top right corner and runs across the picture to the bottom left corner? Why do you think that is? Well, it's so that the slide will look as long as possible and also because straight lines that cut your picture in half are death. Pure death. Most of the time. (I should take this moment to mention that I could be wrong about all of this... but I could be a friggin' GENIUS!) Tilt the camera. Tilt it a lot. Spend a whole day taking pictures and tilting the camera. You will be amazed at how much more fun your pictures will be. Suddenly there will be motion where there was stillness, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria! Which brings us to the third thing that makes this picture work: Incredibly cute little girl.

Whenever possible, try to take pictures of children who are incredibly cute. Precious. Breathtakingly, heartachingly, sweet.

So, that's it for today. Remember: work the hot spots, tilt the camera, drink plenty of fluids and eat some fiber every morning. You'll thank me later.

Booray Perry is a photographer in Tampa FL