Photography 101: Taking a well composed photograph using just your viewfinder

The objective of this lecture is to help you realize what you see through your viewfinder is what your photo will end up looking like. Once you learn this, it won’t be necessary to use scissors or Photoshop since you will end up taking a nice photo to start with. Framing a good photograph is essentially designing inside a rectangle, certain elements will look better in certain spots.


One of the more common rules for composition is the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds is to divide the photo into equal thirds vertically and horizontally with imaginary lines. Where the lines meet is where interesting elements should fall in the photograph. Any subject matter that hits dead centre can mean wasted space in a photo. Putting a subject off to the side means the rest of the photo can contain a second element or an interesting background element.

For example, in the first set of photographs, the person is dead center. This cuts him off at the thighs, making him look awkward, and wastes the space to the right and above him. The second photograph is an example of how to improve this shot. Here he is offset, sitting right along a vertical third, with his face sitting at an intersecting third. By putting him off to the side more of the tree is visible behind him, filling the space with information as opposed to a wall.

The background in the first photograph is a combination of separate elements, making the image busy. Choosing a single object in the background will give a photo focus. His body also faces inward towards the tree therefore leading the eye into the image, instead of off the edge of the photo. He is also standing closer to the camera in the second photo instead of up against the tree. This lets more of the tree in the shot, and gives him a greater presence.

These elements should also be kept in mind when taking photographs of monuments, buildings, and other similar structures. Often people will stand right next to, or below a statue and have their photo taken. When the photo gets developed, there is a good photograph of a statue, and a relatively insignificant figure resembling a family member standing near it. By positioning the person in the foreground, closer to the camera than the structure, the statue will still be in the shot and the person’s face will be discernable. Use the Rule of Thirds to place your subject in relation to the objects in the backgroud. By positioning a person on one intersecting third, facing into the photo, the background element can fall on another intersecting third.



Photo APhoto B

In Photo A, the “Spire” is zoomed in to the tips of the scuplture. It is very tight. However, it would be worse if the top or bottom was cut off. Avoid severing the tips of objects in pictures as it abruptly stops the flow to the photo. By giving the subject space, the photo possesses more flow and is easier to look at, such as in Photo B.

From this angle the “Spire” naturally opens to the left, so the photograph should allows space for it to open up into. Anchoring the “Spire” on the right gives room for the eyes to flow from the sculpture to the open space.

Keep in mind the things surrounding your subject. In the case of Photo B the sidewalk draws the eye inward towards the subject, creating yet another line of flow.

Additionally, don’t zoom in too close around your subject. This will make the photo feel tight and constricted. Instead use an equal amount of space on all sides around the subject which will also act as a frame. You can see this rule used in the photos of the “Spire” by the Olympic Oval.

A few final things to look for before pressing the shutter button. First, get rid of things that might be in front of your intended subject, blocking it from view, by moving it or moving yourself. This can include candles, chandeliers, flowers, and so on. Similarly, look at what’s going on around your subject. For example, if there’s a plant in the background and it happens to line up with a person, in the photo it will appear as though their head is growing a plant. And when photographing people, get down to their eye level. People look more at ease when photographed at the same level. Make them the focus of the photograph by centering and using space to frame a group of people.

It might be difficult to remember to check for these visual elements at first, but soon you’ll be able to frame a good photograph without realizing.

Despite being the semester break, feel free to e-mail me any questions you may have at anna@gauntlet. ucalgary.ca.

Have a great holiday, and take lots of photos.

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