More often than not, if your great shots aren´t getting recognized it could be due to poor composition. Points are lost because the simple rules for composition are ignored, were never learned or have been forgotten. This is a short, to-the-point primer on some facets of composition designed to get the photographer better pictures with or without Photoshop.
Don´t think that just because you are proficient in Photoshop you can easily correct the composition. Just by taking an extra moment or two before shooting the picture may save you hours of work and produce an extraordinary picture. And if you are not proficient in Photoshop, then you have no choice but to carefully compose the picture before shooting.
Nothing in this article is set in stone. We all see professional photographers breaking or rewriting the rules all the time. However, it takes time and experience to know when and what rules can and should be broken, and of course, why.
Looking past the subject
Identify the subject and then figure out how to isolate the subject from all the other junk in the picture. Look beyond the subject to see what else is included in the picture, what can be excluded, and what must be in to complete the picture.
The rule of thirds
Follow the rule of thirds when possible. Divide the frame into a 3×3 grid with horizontal and vertical lines. The subject should be at the intersection of any of the grid lines. Any action should be moving into the largest remaining area of the picture – not out of it. Roads or fences move into the picture – not out of it. The subject’s eyes should be looking into the picture, not out of it. Action moves into the frame not out of it.
Horizontal versus Vertical
Strong horizontal images demand a horizontal format for the picture while strong vertical lines generally require a vertical format. Just because your original image was shot horizontal doesn’t mean it can’t be cropped into a vertical image.
The issue of format seems to be a difficult one for many photographers. Try looking at the image in both formats. If it looks OK to you either way, the chances are you should follow the rules presented. If one way looks materially better than the other, go with that one.
Depth of Field | Eliminate Clutter
Eliminate or diminish clutter. This is better done in the camera simply by changing the photographers position or the camera angle. It can also be done by using a wider aperture to blur the background. Don`t be afraid to shoot several pictures at widely different settings. A blurred background really needs to be blurred, not just slightly out of focus.
Identify the subject
If shooting in color, use color to help identify the subject. Avoid shooting the subject against a similarly colored background. If shooting in B&W, use shadows or light to isolated the subject.
Keep it simple
If you have a scene with a multitude of similar items or subjects, do you really need more than 3 to tell the story? Eliminate objects that are out of focus or too far away from the center of interest.
Size matters. If the center of interest is much smaller than the things around it, it may be lost in the picture. Small items do not carry the impact that larger ones do. Change the distance to the subject, magnification, or crop to get the impact necessary.
As you read through these guidelines, one fact should spring out to the reader: all the rules deal with some aspect of the subject of the picture. Size, color, movement, placement, identification and competition all have an impact on the subject and all add to having and producing great pictures.
Also note, that some pictures may be very private, designed to remind the photographer of some place or time and thus may not have to follow guidelines to be a great picture in the mind of the photographer.