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Compose yourself!


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Compose yourself!

21 Feb 2021 6:11AM   Views : 194 Unique : 149


Apologies to regular readers – this may not be for you. It’s an attempt to provide a way forward for beginners facing a particular problem. It’s not the only solution, by any means – just one suggestion. I’ll be grateful for feedback, if anyone actually tries it!


A problem that arises from time to time in the Critique Gallery amount to ‘how do I do composition?’ And it’s a tricky one to answer, too: I frequently respond in terms of Michael Freeman’s book The Photographer’s Eye, and that remains a good and comprehensive answer. Not, though, an immediately helpful one, especially if you don’t want to aid Mr Bezos in his bid to take over the world.


My aim here is to give you a couple of ideas on how to start developing a sense of composition. There will be rules, but they are like many other rules – they’re for the obedience of fools and the guidance of the wise. And they are for breaking, sometimes… (Actually, I might leave most of the rules for another blog, and just mention one of them for now, so you can go out and start practising!)


OK: Rule 1 is the Rule of Thirds. Imagine, in your mind, that everything you see through your camera’s viewfinder is divided up like a noughts and crosses grid. Most cameras don’t shoot square pictures, so the individual cells are going to be rectangular, but that is not the main point. It’s the lines, each a third of the way across the field of view from an edge.


Rule of Thirds: put the main subject where two of these lines intersect. Put a subsidiary subject (a Robin to the main subject’s Batman) on the opposite third. This generally looks pretty good, and it’s far less boring than putting the subject slap bang in the middle. Many modern cameras allow you to display a grid in the viewfinder.

So you have a rule, and I bet you’re waiting for when you can go out for a day, taking pictures of somewhere exciting. Right?


Wrong. Start today. At home, in the garden, or on your fitness walk. Instead of looking for a pretty picture, and then applying the rule to it, take whatever is in view and make a Thirds composition of it. Then do a different Thirds picture of another mundane subject. It’s fine if you have a lazy dog, or a compliant partner to use as a subject, but it’s also fine if you have to make do with a graffiti-covered lamp-post or an empty baked bean tin.


Go on! Don’t stop at two. By the end of an hour, aim to have a dozen different pictures using the Rule of Thirds on your memory card. Download them, and look at them hard. Then go away and do the washing up, have a cuppa, and look at the post. Then go back and look again.


If you really want to do this seriously, print them out (quality doesn’t matter here) and keep them. As you look at the prints, write notes on them about what you wish you’d done differently. If you’d moved a little to the right, could you have excluded a messy background detail? Would going closer (or standing back more) have made the picture more focussed on the subject, seem less cluttered?


If you want to, post one in the Critique Gallery for comments: maybe add your own modification, showing how you applied exactly the same composition to a different subject. But keep shooting, keep looking, keep examining your own work and deciding what will make the next picture better. And when lockdown’s over and you can get out and visit a country house or a beauty spot, you will have a new way of looking at it, and choosing where to stand for taking your picture…



dudler Plus
17 1.5k 1807 England
21 Feb 2021 6:13AM
And keep on taking them, and looking for better ways to frame the same thing. Try horizontal and vertical. You don't want great pictures today - you want LOTS of pictures using the Rule of Thirds.

dudler Plus
17 1.5k 1807 England
21 Feb 2021 6:14AM
Though if you do see a pretty shot, take it...


All the pictures in this blog except the lead of Alice and Amy at SS Creative Studios were taken within half an hour.
21 Feb 2021 11:01AM
Educational, the crop makes all the difference. Paul.
dudler Plus
17 1.5k 1807 England
21 Feb 2021 11:39AM
That's part of my point about reviewing. If I'd been out to make serious pictures, I'd have stood in the middle of the road to take the second version, instead of cropping!

One of the things that happens when photographers start looking at their images again and again is that they start to notice the distractions - and then they start to look for ways to eliminate or reduce them. That way, art may lie...

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