I cannot stress the importance of knowing how to compose images for capturing better photos. The way you set up the image will make or break your goal – whether your telling a story, selling a product, or capturing some sort of action. If you’re going to become (or continue) to be a professional photographer, you need to be good (really good) at composition. I’m going to assume you already know about the “rule of thirds” and leaving room around the image for cropping. The following tips should help you get beyond the standard portraits or predictable pictures.
TELL YOUR STORY
A picture is worth a thousand words! Every time you take a picture, are you doing it with a purpose? Does your shot convey what is going on? Who or what is it mainly about? Does it show all the details needed to communicate location or mood? What story are you trying to make people see and feel when they see your image? Every shot you take should tell the viewer something about it.
Think about what is included in the shot. Sometimes, what is NOT included is just as important. Make sure you include elements that help build the story, description, or answer any of the questions above. Anything that does not help describe it should be cropped out. Excluding useless elements tell a better story because the focus stays on what is important. It also keeps a clean, uncluttered picture.
EYES LEFT TO RIGHT
Try putting your subject more to the right side rather than the left. Our eyes are used to reading text left to right, just like you are reading this article, so follow the same idea in your photos. This has nothing to do with the rule of thirds or leading lines; rather, it draws your viewer’s attention in to the photo.
Try this little exercise to see what I mean: find one of your photos that has the focus point on the left and Photoshop it to flip it over. Look at the flopped image and think about what difference it just made. In the photo with the left focus point, you look at the subject and then quit looking. But in the one with the right focus point, your eyes are drawn to scan across the entire photo from left to right. Now you know what I mean?
There is an exception to this. If your subject happens to be looking toward the right, you’ll want to keep that subject on the left so that person is not looking directly at the edge of the picture – this feels like they’re looking at a wall.
MIND YOUR SUBJECT
Keep the focus on the subject by minimizing busy details all over the picture. Too much details or action take the focus away from the story in your photograph and make it difficult for the viewer to realize what you are trying to tell. The distracting fire hydrant or bushes behind the bride does not show off her special day, so don’t put it in the photo unless it is part of the story, has an interesting pattern, or makes a good, clean backdrop.
Another way to bring focus to your subject is with light. The eye is naturally drawn to the brightest spot of a photo or where there is contrast. Light defines everything the eye sees, so use it to define your image and lead the viewer’s eye.
CROP WITH CARE
My motto that I learned from design and illustration classes (I majored in fine arts, with a focus on illustration) is to crop big or don’t crop. If you are going to crop off part of the body, crop hard so that it looks purposeful. But be sure that it is purposeful, which means you are cropping something off to strengthen the overall composition. Cut off either way before or way after any tangents (points that intersect, like the top of someone’s head and the background – do not crop on that border). Also avoid cropping hands, feet, and joints.
For example; if the photo is a full length shot of a man with no feet or just one foot, the man will look odd and the viewer’s eye goes right to the missing feet rather than his eyes.
Basically, think of what a true professional photographer would do when composing an image. Would your clients love it?