The exposure is dead on, the focus is sharp, and the timing is perfect. But if the composition is off, the image is just meh. Picture composition is essential in snapping images that impress. But what do you do when what you see filling the viewfinder is just not working for you? If you’re not awed by what you see through the lens, the viewer won’t be either. However, that doesn’t mean you should just forget about it and move on. Here are 15 ways to spice up a boring composition.
Perspective plays a big role in composition. While eye-level shots can work well sometimes, they can get boring quickly. After all, that’s the way people view something everyday. Instead, try climbing to get a higher perspective. Bring a step stool or small ladder when it’s feasible. Or, climb to a higher vantage point from a hill, a tree, a fence, whatever happens to be around at the time. A higher perspective often offers instant flair to a boring photo.
No, I don’t mean start dancing. I mean try a lower perspective. Shooting low to the ground makes subjects appear taller, making something as simple as a daisy feel much more important. Don’t be afraid to get dirty or look ridiculous. Go ahead and kneel or belly crawl on the ground. A lower perspective adds interest to a boring composition. Some subjects are best shot from a lower perspective all the time. For example, when photographing children, shooting from their eye level, and not yours is a strongly recommended. Shooting from your eye level will make them appear smaller and unimportant.
Add a foreground element.
A simple way to adjust a dull composition is to evaluate what’s included in the frame. The foreground is an often forgotten opportunity. Adding an out-of-focus element to the front of the image can instantly add depth and draw the viewers eye in. Look for objects like foliage, or pieces of the landscape to add to the front of the image.
New photographers tend to stay back a little too much, perhaps nervous, perhaps unsure of where to draw the line. While there are occasions to capture an entire scene, it’s good to get in close on some of the details too. For example, when taking a portrait, don’t capture the entire person, head to toe, every time. Shoot some from waist up, shoot some from the shoulders up, shoot some of just the face. The concept of getting closer applies to other subjects as well. Moving closer exemplifies details in still life, nature and many others.
Take a step back.
Wait, didn’t we just go over getting closer? Yes. But some images are better close-up, others are best when more of the scene is included, and sets of images should have a variety in the composition as well. When the scene around the subject isn’t interesting, get in close and use a shallow depth of field. But when the surroundings help to tell a story or otherwise add to the image, take a few steps back and capture the entire scene.
Too many elements in the image draw the focus away from the subject. Change your perspective to eliminate distracting elements, or zoom in closer to crop them out of the frame. Sometimes, you can even move elements out of the way. When that’s impossible, try using a shallow depth of field to at least blur the distractions.
Mix up the subject placement.
Sometimes, the subject is best placed off-center. But that’s not always the case, and using the same subject placement every time can get boring fast. So, how do you decide where to place the subject in the frame? Placing the main focus off to the right naturally draws the eye to any subject, since we read left to right. If the subject is looking in a certain direction, leave empty space in the direction they are looking. If the subject is moving, leave some empty space in the direction they are moving. And if following the rule of thirds just isn’t working for your particular shot, don’t be afraid to try putting the subject in the center.
Odd numbers tend to draw the eye more than even numbers. Why? It has to do having a middle—and there’s no middle to two birds sitting on a wire, but there is with three. Working with this same concept, when you have multiple subjects, try forming a triangle instead of a square or a straight line. Photographing groups sitting in rows is boring, but get a family close together so their faces make a triangle, and your composition is much more visually interesting.
Look for leading lines.
Composition is about drawing the eye to the right elements, and using leading lines is a great way to do just that. The viewer’s eye naturally follows lines, so look for them as you are shooting. Lines are everywhere. A road heading into the distance, for example, draws the viewer deep into the image. Trees, telephone wires, fences—lines are everywhere. Look for them, and use their direction to draw the viewer’s eye wherever they are leading.
Pick up patterns.
Patterns are everywhere, it’s just a matter of looking for them. Including a pattern can instantly add interest to an otherwise boring composition. Look for shapes, objects or textures that repeat, and frame the image to highlight that repetition. Or, you can also add interest with a pattern that’s broken, like focusing on the one blue bird that’s sitting on a wire with a dozen red birds.
Embrace blank space.
It may sound strange to include nothing in your image, but leaving some space empty is a great method for really drawing the eye to what is in the image. Placing the subject off-center with empty space in the remaining portion draws the eye right to the subject. Often, simpler is really better.
Change the orientation.
Most people snap photos horizontally. After all, thats how cameras are most comfortably held. But a vertical orientation can be used just as often. In fact, changing the orientation can be unexpected and add interest in a simple way, like shooting a landscape vertically. Don’t just shoot horizontally automatically. Consider your subject, then consider the orientation and make a decision.
Frame your subject before you even capture the image. Adding an element that creates a border around the subject within the image itself is a great way to spice up a composition. Doorways, windows, foliage, there are a lot of possibilities! You just have to look for them.
Instead of guiding your composition choices by objects, try instead to choose your framing based on colour. Concentrate on getting either complementary or contrasting colors in the frame, and try to crop out elements that don’t fit with the other colors. Or, use an unusual color as the subject to really draw the eye in.
Adjust your aspect ratio.
One of the least known ways to adjust a composition is through the use of aspect ratio. The aspect ratio simply indicates the ratio of the image’s width to height. Adjusting the aspect ratio adjusts the composition by changing the shape of an image—some images may look best very long, while others may stand out as a square. Most cameras use a 3:2 ratio automatically, while some (often mirrorless models) default to the wider (or taller when shooting vertically) 4:3. The 5:4 aspect ratio is shorter still, where a 1:1 is a square.
You can learn manual modes, master the art of focusing and perfect your post processing, but without the right composition, you’re images won’t shine. Thankfully, there’s a few tricks you can try when your composition is looking rather drab, like getting closer, changing your perspective, looking for patterns or highlighting colors.
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