The Three Guidelines for Great Photographs - Part 2

February 11, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

A Good Photograph Focuses Attention on Subject

This is Part 2 of a series of articles about The Three Guidelines for Great Photographs

Once you know what you want the subject to be, you are ready to peer into the viewfinder and organize the image as it will appear in the photograph. At this point, it’s time for you to apply Guideline Two—Draw Attention to Your Subject.

 
How do you do this?
 
Now, let's add another question you need to ask whenever you are about to take a photograph:
 
How can I focus attention on my subject and draw the viewer's eye to it?
 
There’s one sure-fire technique which was used in the picture of the Kid on part 1.  He fills the frame. He is clearly, obviously, unambiguously the subject of the picture.
 
For now, just concentrate on this one technique of drawing attention to your subject:
 
Make the subject fill the frame.
 
It does not matter if you’re photographing an infant, a child, an adult, or a tiger. It does not matter what camera you’re using. This simple trick will work every time with any camera. Just get in close and fill the frame with your subject.
 
To start with, be bold and fill the viewfinder with your subject. If the subject is predominantly upright, shoot the picture vertically. If your subject lends itself to a horizontal picture, shoot it in a landscape format. In the early days of your photography, when you review your pictures at the end of the day you will be surprised to find that the subjects are much smaller in the frame than you expected. You must make sure that when you look through the viewfinder you are looking at everything that is in the viewfinder. Take into account what’s around your subject and ask yourself if it contributes to the picture you are trying to make.
 
One of the advantages of the compact digital camera, which is lacking on nearly all D-SLRs, is the ability to use the LCD screen on the rear of your camera as a viewfinder. I find that people tend to frame their pictures far better when using the LCD, because they tend to look at the whole picture. The LCD is so small that your eye cannot wander around the frame. When you’re looking through a normal eye-level viewfinder, it’s easier for your eyes to wander and, therefore, not consider the frame as a whole.
As you start to shoot more pictures and you become more accustomed to filling the frame, start making use of your zoom lens (which most digital cameras now come with) and zoom in on your subject. Don’t be afraid to shoot, for example, an extreme close-up of your friend, or your baby, or a flower.
 
When you shoot close-up portraits, try experimenting with your framing. Your subject doesn’t always have to be in the center of the frame and looking directly at the camera. Perhaps when photographing, say, your daughter, it may be more pleasing to compose the picture with her on the left or right looking into the center of the picture. Now that you are beginning to frame your portraits, you have started to compose your pictures well.
 
The Rule Of Thirds
 
Since the time of Leonardo da Vinci, budding artists have had the rule of thirds drummed into them at art school. I personally find rules extremely boring, but I grudgingly admit that this one is actually very useful to photographers.
 
Look through your viewfinder and mentally divide the screen into three horizontal and three vertical sections, like a tic-tac-toe grid. The points where the lines intersect are the places that your eye naturally seeks out when looking at a photograph. It’s logical, therefore, that you should try to position your subject near one of these four focal points.
 
When photographing a landscape, it’s also good compositional practice to place the horizon or skyline on one of these imaginary lines. At this point I must also mention that it’s important to keep your horizon straight. Failing to do so is the most common mistake when starting out. It’s a real disappointment to see a photograph in which the skyline runs downhill.
 
Point of View (POV)
 
Changing the angle from which you take a picture can hugely transform it. For small subjects, such as pets and babies, try to get down on their level. Lie down and look up at your one-year-old child’s first steps for a far more interesting picture. A tight portrait of your bulldog asleep on the rug is far better photographed if you are lying down on the same level. Choosing a dynamic viewpoint can help your photography and accentuate your pictures. Don’t be afraid to be radical and stand directly above the sleeping dog. This may or may not give a more interesting viewpoint; the point is to keep experimenting and looking to find the most dynamic picture.
 
I know I sound like Polly the parrot, but keep reviewing your images on the LCD screen on the back of your digital camera. A good tip for cameras with an LCD screen that can be used as a viewfinder—if it’s the sort with a hinged, adjustable screen—is to hold the camera on the floor or above your head to gain a more dramatic viewpoint and view the image using your LCD to control your composition. This way you can sometimes achieve a viewpoint that would not be possible if you had to compose a picture through your normal viewfinder. The less agile you are, the more useful this can be.
 
If your frame contains visible or long, continuous lines, such as roads, rivers, fences, buildings, etc., take advantage of these lines when composing your image to lead your eye into the main subject of the picture. This works particularly well when the lines originate from the bottom corners of your photographs. A winding road, for example, leads to the old church you are photographing, or the Great Wall of China starts in the bottom corner of your frame and then leads the eye into the center of the picture.
 
TIP - Your virtual viewfinder:
A very good way of comprehending composition is to form a rectangular frame (your very own virtual viewfinder) with your hands by linking your index fingers to your thumbs. Hold your frame at arm’s length for that telephoto look, or close to your face for the wide-angle effect. You will find that by eliminating the superfluous information from your view, you will see it more the way your camera will photograph it. This may sound absurd—after all, you can always look through your viewfinder—but just try it.
 
So remember Guideline Two whenever you look in the viewfinder. Ask yourself:
 
“Does the image I see draw attention to my subject?” and ask,
 
“Do I see anything in the frame that might distract the eye of the viewer from my subject?”
 
Which brings us to Guideline Three on my next blog.....until then......Keep shooting.....

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