What's in a good picture?


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Your choice of composition will make or break a photograph. Everyone talks about the rule of thirds and if you follow it religiously then you will always have well composed shots. That's not to say, however, that you can't occasionally break the rules. Sometimes if you have a statement to make, a different composition style will be better than the 'thirds' rule.
To anyone not familiar with this rule, imagine an oblong divided up like a noughts and crosses grid. Where the lines intersect is where you should place your subject for maximum compositional impact.

In a landscape aim for the main point of interest resting on one of these, and any other anchor point on another. So, let's say you have a shot of a beach with the sea behind, try to include a prominent rock/person/boat/object in the foreground on an intersection. This will lead the eye into the picture. Many landscapes are spoilt by having no focus to catch the eye - the scene may have looked great to you but once on your flat computer screen there is nothing to draw you in. In the second image below, you will see that although the main subject - the house - is in the centre, it is placed slightly low and on either side there trees to frame the house towards the top and people towards the lower half.

Similarly with portraits, aim for the subject to be off centre. If the person is looking to or angled to the right then position them so that there is more space in the direction they are looking. If they're looking straight at you then it's your choice where you place them but always think about the imaginery grid and put them on an intersection. As I said earlier, there are times when the rule can be broken. In a close up shot of a person it may be better to place them central thereby locking your eyes on their eyes. I think the more you look at other people's pictures, the more you understand about composition. If the shot leaps out at you, try to analyse why. If it doesn't grab your attention then it will almost certainly be because of poor composition.

When it comes to abstract/minimal photography, your choice of composition is crucial. The viewer needs to understand why you took the shot, especially if it's not obvious what the picture is about. If you look at the shot of the grey railings in my first article, you will see (hopefully!) that the diagonal angle gives impact to an otherwise mundane shot.

My next article will be about choice of viewpoint.