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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Conquer Composition


How to create depth and dimension for dynamic photographs

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Fog settles into mountain valleys outside of Whitewater, British Columbia. Scenes with numerous elements of interest stacked front to back in a scene make for great long-lens landscape candidates.
Engage the viewer immediately with foreground subjects that beg for attention. Use this foreground subject as the anchor in your frame—one to which the viewer will return often, studying and digesting its every last detail. Remember to utilize the other compositional zones to give a realistic, three-dimensional feel. Separate your frame into foreground, mid-ground and background zones by using subject matter, color and tonal contrast.

If you can't find a foreground subject you were searching for, consider using leading lines to draw the viewer deeper into your frame before finally resting upon majestic mountain peaks or a golden sun star. These leading lines can be found in striated rock, patterns in the sand or flowing water as just a few examples.

Long-Lens Landscapes
I find myself reaching for my longer lenses more and more these days, passing up the traditional wide-angle view. My technique for finding good compositions with telephotos is to look through the lens, and scan back and forth for the picture that speaks to me in an intimate manner. Few people "see" in telephoto, so I strongly recommend you try this technique. You will get results!

Generally, scenes most easily composed through longer lenses are those with significant elements stacked front to back. Think of the scene as a three-dimensional loaf of sliced bread. How many slices of bread hold your attention or stack up well? If the answer is "a lot," consider throwing on a long lens to compress the scene. Search for layering within the frame and pay attention to areas of highlight and shadow that will help to convey depth. Also, look for crisscrossing ridgelines and other intersecting elements that guide the eye through the frame.


Summer storm light hits hard above Devil's Castle at Alta, Utah. Utilizing leading lines in your wide-angle images will help to take the viewer into and through your images. Reward them with a climactic display of subject matter, color, contrast or light.
Balance Is The Key
Perhaps the most understated and overlooked fundamental of dynamic composition is ensuring proper balance within your image. Balance is tough to define, but you'll immediately know if your image is out of whack or off-balance—you'll know it when you see it. Think of your photographic frame as though it's balancing on a fulcrum—each subject or area of interest within the frame will cause the image to lean to the left, right, front or back. Our goal as photographers is to keep this image from falling off that fulcrum.

Pay attention to where you place primary and secondary subject matter. If you've placed your foreground anchor in the lower left-hand corner of your frame, consider placing something of lesser importance and visual weight in the upper right-hand corner. The ideal is to ensure it doesn't overpower your primary subject, yet still gives the viewer an alternate part of the image to explore. This also will aid in creating a near/far relationship that conveys depth and dimension. This is what's known as good visual tension—that which causes the viewer's eyes to move about your image in a pleasing manner, eventually resting back on the area of primary interest.

Precision Subject Placement
Regardless of the scene in front of your lens, understanding how and where to properly include subjects within the frame can make or break the photograph. Consider the inclusion of people or wildlife within your images. Give special attention to how they contribute to the image dynamic as a whole. Just having them in the shot isn't enough.

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