composition is the key to taking photographs with a 'universal appeal' - a photo that is interesting to look at regardless of who's in it or what it's of. composition is what makes the difference between a snapshot and a creative expression. as a photographer you often cannot move the subjects that you are taking a picture of, therefore you need to move around to compose your photo. don't be afraid to move around, get close, or shoot from higher or lower angles. the following guidelines will help you to see things differently through the lens of your camera.
1. center of interest - every photo needs a 'reason' for taking the picture. this is what you want the viewer to look at. the center of interest needs to be strong enough to make the picture unique, obvious enough to be clearly identified, and unified in it's focus. keep in mind that if what you are taking pictures of is not interesting to you, it will not be interesting to your viewer. shoot photos of subjects that interest you and it will translate into interesting photos.
2. rule of thirds - once you define your center of interest you need to put it into an interesting place within the photo. visually divide your space into thirds both horizontally and vertically. where those lines intersect are the most interesting areas to place your center of interest.
even if your center of interest fills the frame, or you are shooting something like a landscape where the whole picture acts as the center of interest, you will still want to shift your view slightly so that it is offset into one or two of the 'thirds' areas. take more than one picture shifting your center of interest into different thirds to find where it looks most interesting. also keep your background in mind, watching that your placement doesn't cause unwanted interference from background elements.
3. mergers - there are three types of mergers that we want to avoid: border, background, and color. these mergers occur because the camera sees things differently than our eye sees things. let's look at each merger and discuss why it occurs and how to avoid it.
border mergers occur when the frame of the picture cuts off a portion of the center of interest. this commonly occurs when taking pictures of people and the frame cuts off the top of someone's head or their feet.
to avoid border mergers make sure that your eye is positioned on the viewfinder when taking the picture. you should be able to see all four sides of the frame
background mergers occur when an object from the background interferes with the center of interest. this is because the scene that your eyes perceives in 3D is flattened out to 2D on the film. background mergers commonly involve people merging with object behind them, like a tree growing out of someone's head.
to avoid background mergers pay close attention to objects in the background. look beyond just the center of interest. the aperture setting can also help to avoid this.
color mergers occur because we are shooting with black and white film but we see in color. the film interprets distinction in VALUE only - the shades from white to black. a person's black shirt shot against a navy background will appear as the same value on black and white film.
to avoid color mergers make sure that you are taking pictures with appropriate lighting. the presence of highlights and shadows is a good indication that you will have adequate CONTRAST - the differences between light and dark. as a beginning photographer the best time and place to take your black and white pictures is outside when the sun is shining.
the first 3 guidelines you should always follow for good pictures. the remaining 3 will add interest to your photos.
4. framing - framing occurs when the photographer intentionally reinforces their center of interest by placing it in either an actual or implied frame. examples of an actual frame would be a person standing in a doorway, a cat in a window sill, a mirror reflection, etc. implied frames would be anything in the foreground that frames the image in the background, i.e. wildflowers that create a frame for a distant mountain peak.
5. leading lines - our eye likes to follow lines. by using actual or implied lines we can lead the viewer to the center of interest. actual lines could be a railing, fence line, sidewalk cracks or steps. implied lines could be a person pointing or looking torwards the subject, or something like a row of trees or a skyline.
6. balance - a balance photograph just looks right. there is no heaviness to one side or conflict between subject matter and background. the two types of balance we need to be concerned with are object balance and visual balance. one person to the far right of an empty scene would make it heavy on that side. if that person is balanced by items in the background or a secondary object to their left, object balance could be achieved. visual balance refers to the distribution of light and dark areas-a bright sunset sky balanced by low dark mountains-or an areas of detail balanced by an area of non/low detail.
in closing, check out this excerpt from "The Beginnings of Photographic Composition" by Kodak:
"Photography is communication. Only when you realize this can you begin to make good pictures.
To express yourself with your camera, you must see things that untrained people miss. The better you are at seeing, the more your pictures will stir the minds and emotions of others. As with other visual arts, the meaning of a photograph may be impossible to put into words. It may be a flash of insight into a person’s character, a feeling of awe evoked by nature, or an unexpected funny pose or gesture. But unless some meaning is conveyed, a photograph is sterile and has no reason for being.
Never forget that the difference between a good picture and a mediocre picture lays not so much in the equipment used as in the freshness of the viewpoint."