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for the Photographically Challenged

Lesson Two: Composition

fig 2a–The one we got

fig 2b– The one we wanted

fig 2c- A relevant foreground

fig 2d– The getting-ready-for-a-special-day shot. Besides the dumb flash, there isn’t much here to look at. The camera is turned the right way for how we have composed our shot, but it could be better.
fig 2e– This one is better because it adds context and lets us see Lesley’s gorgeous hair. The shot is interesting because the foreground (the back of Lesley’s head) leads the eye to the subject (Lesley’s face). Ever see someone staring up and you automatically look up too? Same thing. She is looking at her face so we are compelled to look.

fig 2f– This one explores the potential of the composition in 2d but fully realizes it. Unfortunately a point-and-shoot camera can not capture this image. Did you notice how her arm (the foreground) is blurry? SLR cameras let you have control over the depth of field by way of an adjustable aperture. By opening the aperture more, the depth of field is reduced so that a more “shallow” portion of the image is in focus. By blurring the foreground our eye is naturally drawn to our subject because it is in focus.

Another use of this depth of field concept is depicted in figure 2g. This is the classic blurry background shot that further sets photographs apart from snapshots. This effect is super easy to achieve, but only if you have an SLR.
    I know what you’re thinking. “This fill the frame with the subject and heads at the top of the image stuff sounds good, but what if there is something behind my subject that I want in the shot?”
    When we go from taking pictures of people to taking pictures of people in a setting, we need go beyond framing our pictures and start composing them. Framing is the relationship of the subject to the edges of the picture. Composition involves depth and slightly more complicated relationships involving foreground, subject, and background. And no, you won’t need to think about all these terms every time you take a picture of Aunt Tilly. We will use these terms and others in discussion, but mark my words, as soon as you start shooting, these concepts will come easily to you. Trust me.
     You have no doubt seen figure 2a; the look-where-we-are vacation shot. 2a is how we shot it and if all we wanted was to refresh our memories ten years from now it might be fine. But we took the picture to share it with others. Compare 2a and 2b. Which one do you think conveys the excitement of our arrival at Cafe Athens more effectively? Which makes more interesting viewing? Wouldn’t you be this excited to be at Cafe Athens? We all have shots like 2a in our photo albums. It seems natural to stand parallel to the building, yell “say cheese,” and just press the button. But 2b was almost just as easy. By moving Lesley farther from the building, rotating the camera, and shooting from a lower angle, the subject and context become clear and it eliminates a lot of the clutter in 2a. Both Lesley and the sign are larger and they are  what our shot is all about. Also, by shooting at an angle other than straight at the building, it becomes more visually pleasing. 2a took about ten seconds to capture. 2b took about fifteen seconds. Five seconds well used if you ask me. One principle to note here is when you shoot a wide shot like this, don’t cut your family off at the knees. Go ahead and get their feet in the shot too. But don’t forget to fill the frame.  
     Okay. So I mentioned something about foreground, subject, and background. I also said you wouldn’t need to be thinking about them every t...You were there. These elements usually make themselves obvious in snapshots. If an interesting foreground is there, get it in the shot. If not then don’t worry about it. But don’t spend time trying to eliminate everything from the shot other than the subject. I have watched people do that on vacation. It’s at once funny and sad to see Uncle Joe spend ten minutes wrangling the tired family so all you see in the shot are the faces of the family while fields of rare and beautiful flowers wave gently in the breeze all around them. Foreground and background are context if they are relevant. In figure 2a, the Jeep, parking lot, and parking sign are irrelevant. In 2c, the table is relevant because we are about to eat this meal at Cafe Athens that for some reason we drove across the country for. Don’t worry. When the time comes you will know the difference, Grasshopper. Just don’t forget to fill the frame.
    So the principles to remember here are:

          Don’t cut your family off at the knees

          Foreground and background are context
          if they are relevant       

           fill the frame   

     2d - 2f  further the point of context, foreground, and subject and make a great segue in to lesson three: Glass and mirrors.  
Lesson Three- Glass and Mirrors