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The Art of Composition— From an Unconventional Amateur

AJ500Aug 21, 2019, 10:28:22 PM

The most common thing that people say to me about my images is that I have an eye for composition. In recent years I have been asked by my peers, to give talks at our local camera club about composition, I have always refused , firstly, because I am not confident at public speaking and more so I refuse, because I feel personally, that I have nothing they can learn from me, which they find very odd; It's as if they think I am holding some magical secret they have yet to discover, which in turn, I find very odd. 

There is no secret to the way I compose an image, I do it without thinking, it's a feeling, an instinct, if you like. I see a scene, and I know right away how I want to shoot it and how the elements work together in the scene. 

What I have come to realize over time is not everyone has the ability to do this. Some of my most talented photographer friends (far more talented than I), have to work exceptionally hard to compose their incredible images. They take all that they have learned, through workshops, courses, talks and such like, and put all those technical skills into practice, which I greatly admire them for. They have hundreds of dollars worth of equipment, various camera bodies and top dollar lenses, they use all the latest in software to edit their images, and it works for them. I, on the other hand am not like that. I am going to dispel a few myths for you here and share some tips, that hopefully, if you are new to photography will help. 

1. I do NOT have the gear my friends do.

2. The software I use is old, cheap or free.

3. My camera is pretty old now, and even though I have a coupe of lenses, I rarely remove my kit lens that came with the camera. 

4. I have not been taught photography.

Remember, you can have the most expensive gear in your bag, and still take a poor shot. You don't have to keep up with the Jones's to take a great photo. Get creative, work with what you have and ignore the kit snobs. 

I use an old version of Photoshop (way before the cloud). I have never used Lightroom and nor do I plan to in the future. I do use Photomatix to blend HDR images and I use the free Nix Colour Efex Pro plugin for Photoshop. 

Now for the kicker that will have all those pro photographers twitching! I never shoot in RAW...which is positively a no, no to my friends. They gasp in horror when I tell them, but in my opinion, RAW files take far too long to edit and take up way too much space on my computer. I do however, mostly shoot 3 exposures for every one image to create a detailed HDR image. 

My camera is an old Canon 60D. It came with a 18-200 kit lens which works for me. I do have the cheap Canon 50 mm lens, a Sigma wide angle lens and a Sigma macro lens, all of which I barely use. Oh and now of course I have a lensball, which a lot of fun to shoot with.

So about composition... Here's how I see it:

Yes, use the rule of thirds for the most part, it's tried and trusted, but also don't be afraid to break that rule for impact, if something is going to look striking in the center of your shot then do it. 

Always try adding depth to you images, something to catch the eye in the foreground that will make the viewer look beyond that foreground and explore the whole scene. 

Foreground Interest and Leading Lines to draw the eye through the scene.

Look for leading lines, they will always draw the eye through the scene (for example the image in the banner), as the boardwalk turns it leads your eye to the spire in the distance.

I am also drawn to what I like to call layered lines, natural lines that give the image depth. 

Natural Layered Lines from the Foreground to the distance.

When it comes to shooting flowers, I often find myself thinking how that flower would like to be presented, just as a person would. This may sound bonkers, but it works. For example, you always want to shoot it's best side and in the best light, look for the best of the bunch, the prettiest one of them all, and then look behind it, crouch, kneel, stoop, get down and see beyond it, which angle will show it off against the others and when shot with a shallow depth of field, you'll have that one 'stand out' bloom as the others melt softly away in the bokeh beyond. If it's a macro shot, then make sure you fill that frame for maximum impact. 

Try not to shoot directly down at a flower bed or a single flower, this is okay for a reference or record shot, but from an artistic perspective, it is far better to get down to the level of the flower as best you can.

Life Cycle— Shallow Depth of Field,  with 'the soon to be open' in the front fading away to the fully bloomed behind.

One of the strongest tools you have in your arsenal, when it comes to post processing is the crop tool. Even if you are not into all the post processing messing about, look at your image and see if cropping it will make that composition stronger, remove some unwanted elements that you didn't notice at the time of taking the photo, you might even see a picture within a picture, that is stronger than the overall scene.

And finally...Be selective. Not every photo is great, never is. At least 50 percent of mine are awful after a days shooting, and they would never make the cut for anyone to see, pick only your best when it comes to editing and subsequently sharing.

I am not a conventional photographer, and nor am I a professional, just passionate about photography. I started taking photos (more that just holiday snaps) in 2005, I bought a Fuji Finepix bridge camera, which I still have in the cupboard today. In that first year, I sent away photos to Digital Camera Magazine in the UK and was publish 3 times. I came 3rd in their Photographer of year competition (Altered Images Category) that same year. I KNEW NOTHING. I joined a camera club, and within a couple of years I won the competition trophy 4 years running. I could tell you that I learned a lot, from the group, but I didn't. I did however, make friends with one of the visiting judges, who said that I should submit my work for accreditation. He helped me through the process and which of my images might be good for selection and in 2008 I earned my C.P.A.G.B,  (Credit for the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain). Which you can read more about here: https://tinyurl.com/y5mha9m4

The point is, like anything in life, if you are passionate about something, it shows, and it carries you a lot further in your journey to improve.

If you made it to the end, thanks for reading. I hope I have inspired or helped someone by writing this blog.