Composition: Avoid Mergers

Prevent overlapping subjects to create good composition
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There are many guidelines that lend themselves to good composition. This is not to say they can't be broken. There will always be an image someone can reference that disproves a rule. But before one can successfully break the rules, he or she should become familiar with what works the majority of the time. One such rule of composition that works more often than not is preventing mergers.

Mergers are created when key parts of the main subjects overlap each other, touch another key element, or touch the sides of the frame. Examples of mergers are a tree growing out of someone's head, a harbor scene wherein you can't tell one ship's mast from another, or a large group of animals wherein those that are placed along the edges of the frame lack legs, heads, wings, etc.

With Mergers

Without Mergers

It sounds basic, but a key way to prevent mergers it to study the entire viewfinder before pressing the shutter. Too often photographers zero in on just the subject and become "blind" as to what's going on in the rest of the viewfinder. Photographers are subjective, yet the camera is very objective. It will record what it sees. The more objective you become before taking a picture, the more you'll prevent mergers.

Another form of a merger is having very bright or dark spots appear in the background or foreground of your image. The viewer's eye is always drawn to the brightest part of the photo. If bright distractions are radiating from the subject, they will compete for attention, lessening the success of the image. The same holds true for dark areas around the subject, especially if the subject is dark or wearing dark clothes. This is known as a color merger and should be avoided in that the subject merges with the background. This prevents the viewer from knowing where the subject and background begin or end.

If you detect a merger, move to your left, right, or get higher or lower. More often than not, it will eliminate the distraction in the background or foreground. If tone mergers occur, visit the location at a different time of day as shadows and highlights constantly change. If the subject is small, add a flash to highlight it, place the flash behind the subject to rim light it, or aim it at the background to create separation.



    How true and timely! I have only recently noticed that moving around helps considerably, especially when I don’t want a branch coming out of someones head!

    Worthwhile discussion of an easy fix to strengthen composition. Use of the feet is an important tool to improve composition. Having a cardboard or heavy paper portable viewfinder helps to evaluate all the elements in the frame.

    Bill Brennan

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