[LEARNING CURVE]Six pointers to make that image betterIt’s your day off, the weather is great and you have your camera in hand in Korea. Sounds like a terrific start for some great photographs, doesn’t it? Well, it is ― but of course, it is only a start.
To me, taking pictures in Korea on a beautiful day is like standing on a ridge line of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Everywhere I turn, I can see gorgeous scenery. But for many years I could not take very good pictures, even when everything technically went well within the camera. The problem was composition.
Composition has some basic principles. But like most things when it comes to aesthetics, there are no hard and fast rules. At the end of the day, if the image actually grabs you emotionally, then you have a good photograph. If it doesn’t, then no matter how technically or aesthetically perfect in principle the photo may be, you still have just a so-so image at best.
With the above in mind, you may wish to consider the following pointers:
Get uncomfortably close to the subject; even if it is a real life, breathing human being. Yes, you can do it via a telephoto lens, and sometimes that is the only option, but see if you can use your viewfinder the same with a wide angle or normal (50 mm) lens.
Colors and textures may be wonderful, but always ask, what is the subject or the central point that draws the eye? If there is none, or competing points strongly vie for your eyes’ attention, consider reframing your picture so there is just one drawing point.
Look at the background. While you may mentally block out the background when you look at a subject, your photograph will not. Consider if the background is too busy in subject matter, colors, and so forth, or are there any strong lines that intersect into the subject in a disturbing way? The most common example is having a background vertical or horizontal line seeming to plug into the head of of the person whom you are photographing. Another problem is bright colors. A red fire extinguisher or someone wearing a bright yellow blouse in the background, even if out of focus, can significantly detract from the subject.
Don’t center your subject but have the main focal point off center from the image. Rule of thumb: place the subject off by roughly one-third in any direction from the very center of your photograph.
Try framing your subject with a branch, or a doorway, or a roof line. This gives depth, and if the color is not distracting it adds more balance to your photo.
Consider focusing on part, not the whole, of a subject. Most postcards show the entire image of a temple or whatever. These are rarely great photographs but simply document the existence of a location. Since you can always buy a postcard, you should focus on your own photography. Consider taking pictures of details such as a rusted hinge, wooden flowers carved on a door, or the hands of a farmer.
Again, the above are just guidelines. If you are not already keeping these basics in mind, try doing so for the next couple of months and see if there is an improvement in your photographs.
On the other hand, if you are already well aware of the above principles, then you may wish to explore the more advanced topics of photographic composition. An excellent photography Web site, which features a monthly column on composition and esthetics is at RawWorkflow.com. To get a peek at one of these helpful columns, please go to http://rawworkflow.com/making_pictures/index.html
Novice or professional, a good photographer makes a point of periodically returning to and reviewing the basics, not the least of which is pondering what makes up good composition.
by Tom Coyner
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