I just had an interesting conversation with a colleague. He showed me an image he had captured of a landscape just before the morning sun broke the horizon. In the bottom left corner was a fisherman in a small boat facing diagonally to the right. The sky was reflected in the water and it was just after the “blue hour” so there was some yellow/red brightness in the sky. My comment was that it was “well composed”.
He replied that he was not sure that that meant and it started me thinking……..
Composition can either make or break an image. Of course, exposure and depth of field are also critical elements, but a poorly composed image will be unattractive no matter how well the others are managed. By comparison, a well composed image that is slightly over or under exposed or with a troublesome focal point will still be perceived as good even if not great.
So what are the components of good composition? There are some basic rules such as a level horizon line, ”rule of thirds” and use of negative space. The concept of a level horizon line is quite obvious. You don’t want the viewer to feel that he or she is inebriated when looking at your finished product.
The rule of thirds is more interesting. Basically take your scene and visualize that it has been divided into 3 sections both vertically and horizontally. If you do this on a blank page of paper, or draw it on a print you’ve made, you’ll have 9 boxes. To use the “rule”, place your main subject at the intersection of any two lines. If your subject is on the left facing right, or moving to the right, you’ll want to place your subject on the left side of the frame. If facing left or moving to the left, place the subject on the right of the frame. Generally, you will never want to centre your subject unless you’re shooting portraits.
Negative space is a bit more of a subtlety. Negative space is the part of the image that is almost blank. You should also be careful to have moving subjects like cars, boats and planes moving into the frame rather than moving out. In other words, the viewer will perceive the negative space as the place your subject is looking into or moving into. If the negative space is behind your subject, it will add nothing to the image and will be perceived as redundant and will actually detract from the attractiveness of the final product.