The one element that immediately separates an amateur or novice’s photos from that of pro or consummate enthusiast’s is composition, the placement of objects in the frame… this ultimately defines your skill as a photographer and the beauty of your images. Composition is a craft as a well as a skill, so it’s something that you can develop through practice, practice and practice.
To elevate the aesthetic standard of your photos you must find a distinctive point of interest and frame it, so you draw the viewers eye to that subject. It could be something very small in the frame or very large, and depending on how and where your place it in the frame, what’s its color, and/or how it contrasts to the rest of the elements of the scene indicates what you, the photographer, thought was beguiling.
Complicated imagery has the same problem that a complicated sentence has (I’m not one to talk, am I?), the audience has to spend too much time deciphering what you are trying to convey. Even then they might not fully comprehend the idea. Remember, in this context simple doesn’t mean rudimentary, it means easy to understand. Seek the uncluttered frame that tells you everything with immediacy… then let the viewer’s imagination go to work; you’ll be hailed a genius! Or not.
The next thing to do is make sure the area you select has a few elements that can create a strong composition. If you intend to record cloud or star movements it is best to have a measurable amount of “ground” in the picture to give it balance and perspective. It is also significant to apply the old-fashioned rule of thirds to your evening landscapes just as much as the daytime ones to ensure they are of the same quality.
Once you have your spot and composition pulled together you are going to have to focus the scene with the remaining light and take a few test shots. Some photographers use the bulb setting for these in order to get a clear understanding of the amount of time the shot is going to require, but others use the timer on their camera shutters to indicate the length of the exposure. A good starting point is a thirty second exposure with an aperture of f/3.5.
Where exposures are concerned, it is a good idea to use the lowest ISO your camera offers because prolonged exposures add “noise” and graininess to an image. This means if you crank up the ISO and use a long exposure you are likely to get inferior and noisy images.
When you are designing your image, consider using objects within the viewfinder to “frame” your subject (as in the photo to the right). Perhaps you include a window or incorporate the side of a building into the shot… whatever is around, it’s all usable just make sure it has sharp, identifiable lines to create a “frame within your frame”. This will draw the viewer’s eye directly to the subject that you want.
Blurring the background (or foreground) is a critical skill for a photographer to master, as it allows the photographer to focus the viewer’s eye on exactly what he (or she) wants the viewer to see; it’s generically called Selective Focus. You can easily achieve this by shooting with a longer lens at the widest possible f/stop possible, as this reduces the depth-of-field to an extremely shallow margin.
It’s like they always say, “the devil is in the details.” Details imbue anything, particularly a photograph, with the ignored or taken for granted elements that make something real. Maybe it’s the pores of someone’s skin, or the soft texture of rain-drenched flowers or the brief space between the mouths of silhouetted lovers before they kiss – those are the things that make you stop and think and say, “that’s the beauty of life.”
The Rule of Thirds. Picture if you will… dividing the viewfinder frame by three; horizontally and vertically. Now picture the four intersecting points… psychological studies have shown that the human eye is subconsciously drawn to those four vertices. When composing your photographs, if you place your subject at one of those intersecting points you’ll intrinsically have a more dynamic photograph. Take two pictures, one with the subject at one of those points, the other with the subject dead center… which one “feels” more potent?
What’s important when creating a solid image is what and how you fill the frame. By this we mean, you must use the frame to crop out superfluous and distracting information, elements, light sources, etc. Knowing what to eliminate is just as important as knowing what to include, if not more so…
Changing your perspective is great way to change your composition; either really low or really high. This is because these are vantage points that we rarely experience in our everyday life (especially something like an overhead view). You might need to lie down in the dirt or climb up a tree, but this will enhance your visual repertoire and the dedicated photographer doesn’t let anything stand in the way of getting the best shot!
A photo’s composition is perhaps the single, strongest “concept” that determines the power and the beauty of the photo. So to strive to master the above mentioned strategies for composition will push the impact of your photos, enhance your ability to capture special moments, unique details, and decisive moments… all of which will give you unforgettable images.To focus the scene, it is important to consider the focal point of the image and then use this to the best extent possible. For example, a flat and expansive landscape with only a ridge of hills in the distance is going to use those hills as the focus, while the landscape with a building as the focal point will target that instead.
It is important to note that some images require significant amounts of time – up to ten or fifteen minutes, but can yield some amazing results.