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Cool Composition is King for the Travel Photograph
A good photograph is a well-composed photograph. Without good composition, few photos will make it to the customer's lightbox. The more you can study composition and improve the composition of your photos, the better they will be.
What makes a composition good? Why is one photograph pleasing to the eye when another on is not? Is there some kind of formula you can use to take a 'Wow' photograph? These questions have had much time and effort devoted to them over the years, and although it is not possible to take a 'Wow' photograph every time, there are a variety of techniques that the beginner can adopt to help him or her improve their compositional appreciation, and thus ensure that every photograph they do take is well composed, and thus a potential winner.
It is easy for the beginner to Travel Photography, or indeed any other type of photography, to be discouraged by looking at the works of others, feeling that they haven't got the 'eye' for a good photograph, and are thus unlikely ever to take something similarly good. Alternatively, by looking at a great photograph and then trying to duplicate it without understanding just 'why' it 'is' a great photograph, the beginner is unlikely to succeed with any predictability. Is it possible to understand why its great? Is it possible to anticipate the elements of a pleasing photograph? Yes and yes: welcome to the theory of Composition.
This article in the Tim's Tips series has no intention of trying to teach composition within one page: that is the job of a complete book on the subject. My purpose here is to make you aware of the importance of composition, and encourage you to go out and buy that book. I am a strong believer in composition. Without it, all the money that you spent on photographic equipment is wasted. With it, you will be able to take amazing photographs with any camera. Yes that's right: any camera will do. You might not be able to sell those images, as customers require a certain minimum specification of size and format, but all will still acknowledge an amazing photograph for what it is.
Since writing the above paragraph, I've changed my mind. I'm not going to try and make you aware of the importance of composition. Its better if you realise this for yourself. To do this, I'm going to set you a series of small tasks. If you trust me, you'll try them. You can make your own mind up about the results. Send me an email with the best image, if you wish: I'd love to see it. Before too long I may also see your name on the web as the latest pro photgrapher to sell your images!
Here are the tasks. Each one will take you a day to complete. There's no limit to the number of images you should take, but remember that Quality is better than Quantity. Each image should conform to the specifications of the task. Nothing else will do.
Task Number 1: I want you to go out and spend the day taking photos of red things. Of course you won't be able to get everything in your photo red, but the main subject of each shot must be red. No other color will do, only red. If you can't find many red things, then take a lot of shots of the red things you do find. Fill the frame. Get in close. We are talking lots of red.
Task Number 2: I want you to go out and photograph patterns. Find groups of objects, and fill the frame with them. If possible, and they are small enough, you might try to move them about a little for better visual effect. Even if you can't you should make a point of moving around the objects. Try photographing them from different angles. Try photographing them with different lighting. Try the different lenses that you have. Add a point of interest in the photograph: if you are photographing a group of garden gnomes, have one looking in a different direction from the others. If you are photographing a basket of oranges, replace one with an apple. Where should the odd one be in the frame? Is there one point where it has greater impact on the image?
Task Number 3: I want you to go out and shoot a series of 10 photographs that tell a story about things you find interesting in your local area. The story should be told entirely with the visual images themselves: there should be no text within the frame, and the images should have no titles. Show the series to your friends, and ask them to explain what the sequence of photographs is trying to say. Do they pick up on the same things as you, or do they see some things differently. Re-assess the photos in the light of their comments. Could you have taken a photograph in a different way to change its impact?
Task Number 4: For this task, I want you to go out and take some photographs that emphasise the depth of an image. You should use your wide angle lens if you have one, but if not, don't worry: you'll just have to try a bit harder, that's all. Try and include all the important areas of a scene: foreground, middle ground, and background. Look for lines that will lead the eye into the frame. Should they come from the sides, the top, or the bottom? What difference does it make as you change the angles of the lines? How is the picture improved if they point to a centre of visual interest in the scene? What happens if they don't?
So, that's the end of your photographic tasks. I hope that you have enjoyed completing them, and that you have started to think more about composition at the same time. Now is the time to head down to the bookstore and find a book on composition that suits you. I will promise you one thing: the purchase of a book on composition will be money well spent. Follow what it says carefully, and it will have far more impact on your ability to take really great photos than any new camera body or lens could possibly do. Get it right, and you will soon be taking photos that will sell professionally.
Read other articles in the Tim's Tips series...
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