If you follow these two rules you will improve your photography! So read on...
When I decide to write a post about the techniques of photography I get my inspiration from my mum - and I bet she'll be the first one to add a comment on this article ;) - so I always try to write for beginners. My mum typically has a point and shoot camera and uses the Auto mode most of the time. The Auto mode is very practical for most situations but the photographer loses the ability to be creative and in control of the end result. I will talk about other camera modes such as Aperture Mode, Shutter Speed Mode and Manual Mode in future articles, but sometimes being constrained to a specific mode 'forces' you to focus on the elements of composition rather than your camera settings which can be good when learning about composition.
To create great photography you need to master two big subjects: Exposure and Composition. When you use Auto Mode you let the camera decide your exposure so let's concentrate on the Composition side of photography, and focus on the two most important techniques. These will improve you photos right away!!
1) THE RULE OF THIRDS
The most important rule in photography is the rule of thirds. This is a very practical rule that everybody can easily use. It is not a 'creative' rule where different people can interpret it differently.
The idea is to divide your photograph in horizontal thirds and vertical thirds, so when you look at your camera screen to take a photo of your scene you imagine two horizontal lines and two vertical lines.
The horizontal lines and the vertical lines will create 4 connecting points:
On certain cameras there is a setting that let you show the grid when you look through your camera. Check your manual.
My camera doesn't have this setting so it's not a problem. you just have to imagine it. It does NOT have to be perfect. It's just a guide.
The purpose of this grid is to help you place your main subject, whether a person, a tree or the sea, in the right place in your photo.
The human eye and brain are attracted to certain subconscious elements, such as colours, brightness, lines, etc...
Elements that help us recognise and categorise things in compartments in our brain. Our brain wants to understand what it sees so it is attracted to a certain order and position of things. The rule of Thirds helps create balance in your photo.
Some compositions are pleasing to the eye and other aren't. A lot of it has to do with the Rule of Thirds.
Now that you know about the grid, what do you do with it?
You place the main element in your scene either on one of the lines or one of the connecting points.
I told you it was easy :)
The difficult part is to define WHAT IS the main element!! Anything can be the main element. It's up to you to decide and up to you to position it in the best place so it stands out.
If you're photographing a pepper on a chopping board then you position it on one of the points. Remember we tend to read from left to right, top to bottom, so the top or bottom points might be better. But try different ones.
If you're photographing a sunset then the sky might be the most important. Position the horizon on the bottom line. If there is a nice boat in the sea that creates a shadow then the sea becomes more important. In this case you can place the horizon on the top horizontal line.
The best way to learn something is by looking at examples. Below you will find a variety of photos with different subjects. For each photo look at where the elements and subjects are positioned:
On this photograph above you can clearly see that the left dome is placed on the left vertical line. It is the biggest element in this photo. The other dome is placed on the right vertical line. It is smaller but still important by its shape - it stands out in the middle of the minarets. The bright sunset light creates a line that is positioned on the bottom horizontal line. And there is also a faint line of light positioned on the top horizontal line.
When you first look at the photograph you don't think: "wow! what a beautiful rule of thirds!" The main subject is the silhouette and the mood. But by positioning the elements in the right place the photo is pleasing to the eye.
In the photo below you can see that the elements are not actually perfectly positioned on the lines and connecting points. But it's close enough. And that's what is important. The different elements in this photo are in the right place which improves the viewer's experience.
Now let's look at other examples:
Since this post went on a bit longer than I had planned I will write another article to explain the second most important rule of composition.
Just one last thought here. A lot of 'pro' photographers will tell you to "break the rules" and particularly break the rule of thirds. Do not listen to them!! They are just trying to be interesting.
Of course it is well known that rules are there to be broken. But the one thing that beginners do is not applying the Rule of Thirds so if you break this rule you will be back to square one. This rule will work for 90% of your photos. The only time you want to centre your subject is when there is perfect symmetry. For a sunset with no other subjects than the sea, sky and sun you still need the horizon positioned on one of the lines but you can keep the sun in the middle of the frame. That's the only exception - when there is perfect symmetry.