If you want to learn a bit about photography, so that you can take photos of your family that you’re proud of (and finally get your camera off auto mode) then you’re in the right place.
This post is part of a series that will give you the basics you need to feel more comfortable with your camera. The series will give you the information in a way that’s easy to understand, as well as suggesting ideas to try out to put your new skills into practice as you go.
Each post in the series will focus on a different aspect of photography, so you can get to grips with one thing before moving on to the next.
This time the focus is on composition.
Composition is simply the way different elements are placed in the frame when you take a photo.
It’s a really important element of photography, and can make the difference between a bad photo and a great one. A well-composed photo will grab people’s attention, drawing their focus to the main subject and helping tell the story that you want to tell.
There are loads of rules of composition that are worth learning when you’re new to photography, to help you understand what makes a great image and to move away from taking simple snapshots.
To get you started I’m just going to focus on 5 of the main rules of composition:
1. The rule of thirds
If you ask any photographer about the rules of composition, this will most likely be the first one they think of.
It’s a great place to start to get you thinking about where to place the subjects of your photos in the frame.
The basic idea is that you imagine your photo being divided into 9 equal sections, like a 3×3 grid.
Then when you compose your photo you aim to place your subject on one of the lines, like Rhys in this example is placed on the right hand line, one third of the way into the frame.
This rule works really well with landscapes, where you can place the horizon on one of the horizontal lines to either draw attention to the landscape or to a particularly dramatic sky.
It’s also great to keep in mind for portraits, when you want something more interesting than a person’s face right in the middle of the frame. Positioning their eye (the one closest to the camera) on one of the intersecting points in the grid tends to look really good.
2. Leading lines
These are exactly what they sound like, they’re elements of photos that lead your eye along their line to where you want the viewer’s focus to go.
Leading lines can be made from all sorts of things like:
- a row of trees
- a winding path or river
- fences and railings
- the lines on paving slabs or floorboards
- a person’s limbs
In this example the converging lines of the green railings lead your eye into the middle of the photo, where the main subjects are.
It doesn’t matter where the different elements are placed in the frame, as long as the leading lines do their job and lead the viewer’s eye to the main subject.
3. Use frames
Framing your subject within your photo is another technique, like leading lines, to draw the viewer’s focus where you want it to go.
You can frame your subject by shooting through an archway or a doorway. You can do it by shooting through tree branches so they’re just at the edges of your image.
One of my favourite methods using frames in pictures of my children is to photograph them on the swings at the park.
In these photos, like in the example here of Nerys on the big tyre swing, the chains act as a frame, with her nicely in the middle.
4. Negative space
Negative space is the space around your main subject that has little, if anything, in it.
It’s a great composition tool to use if you want to take photos of your child somewhere with big, open spaces to give a sense of them out in the big wide world.
This photo of Rhys and Nerys at the beach has a lot of negative space around them, which creates the feeling of freedom and of having the whole beach to themselves to do what they like.
If this image was cropped in tighter you wouldn’t get the same sense of energy either, as they’d be running out of the frame instead of into the open space.
The main benefit of including negative space in your images is that it creates a sense of simplicity.
Anyone looking at the photo will be drawn to the main subject with no distractions, and that main subject has room to breathe in the image.
5. Use different viewpoints
If you normally take photos of your children from the same viewpoint then changing your perspective now and then can make a big difference to your composition and how good your photos look.
A lot of people take photos from their own viewpoint; so they’ll simply put the camera to their eye, aim it at their child and take a photo. One quick way to improve your photos is to crouch down and get to your child’s eyelevel and then take their photo.
Once you’ve tried that you can play around with other, more creative options.
The classics are a birds eye view and a worms eye view. So basically taking photos from up high and then low down.
I wanted to take a photo of the cute little heart details on Nerys’ jeans when she was a baby, and to make the image more interesting I took it from directly above her as she was lying down on her playmat.
This photo on the other hand, was taken from a lower viewpoint, looking up at her as she walks along a wall.
Shooting up like this helps keep the background clear so the focus is on the subject. It also creates a much more interesting picture, that tells more of a story – in this case you get the sense that she is really quite high up on the wall, feeling braver with each step as she loosens her grip on my hand!
Now it’s time to start putting things into practice.
Now you know the basic rules, here are some ideas for things to try to get creative with your photo compositions.
Take your camera on your next family walk
Next time you head out to the park or the woods together, take your camera along and look out for ways you can practice using these rules of composition.
You can either pick one rule that you’ll focus on for the whole outing, or see if you can give them all a try along the way.
If you focus on using frames, for example, see how many different ways you can do this in one walk. You could:
- shoot through tree branches
- hold a leaf up to the edge of your camera to create a frame
- get your child to hold their hands towards the camera, making a heart shape for example, and then focus on their face through that frame
- use gates, doorways, archways, etc
- use play equipment at the park, like the chains on the swings, to make frames
Play around with breaking the rules
You know what they say, rules are made to be broken. And the rules of composition are no exception.
For most of the rules there will be times when doing the opposite will make a great photo.
So grab your children and go and break some rules.
My favourite rule to break is the rule of thirds. Sometimes it just works so much better to have my children or my family right in the middle of the frame. This works especially well if there are other elements to the photo that add a sense of symmetry.
This photo, for example, works so well because my husband has a child either side of him, creating that symmetry and making the image more interesting.
Look for ways you can place your subject in the middle of the frame to create an interesting photo.
One approach to try is looking to include the rule of thirds in the background of your photo. So you would place your children in the middle of the frame, but compose the image so the horizon is on one of the horizontal lines in your imaginary 3×3 grid.
Now, go have fun breaking a few rules!
Hopefully this post has given you a great start in understanding the rules of composition, when to use them and when you can start breaking them.
If you have any questions please do leave me a comment and I’ll try my best to help!