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One of the most difficult things to teach in photography is composition, which by definition is how you arrange the photo so that you tell your story. Other topics, such as aperture, shutter speed; once they are understood are pretty much mastered. But composition is a talent that comes naturally to some, and may never quite be mastered by others. The concept of composition truly cannot be taught - the photographer must adapt their own style, and is perhaps the one thing that makes photography an art form. Composition is what makes the difference between a snap-shot and photograph.

There is only one true rule for composition. And that is - rules are made to be broken. While there are guidelines to composition (what some may call rules), do not be afraid to break them if it results in a better photograph. Composition is highly subjective, so no one can say whether your photo is correct or not - it is an art form, and you can interepret it as you see fit.

However, there are a few fundamentals of compensation that when understood, should help you take better photographs. But again, do not be afraid to violate these guidelines.

Rule of Thirds

This is one of the most fundamental of rules, and it states that your main subject should be placed off-center in the photo, which may provide a more pleasing result.

In the Rule of Thirds concept, the scene is split into 9 equal boxes, similar to a tic-tac-toe grid. Where each of the lines intersect - shown by the red dots - are one of the four prime points that your main subject should be. This offsets the main subject, which often results in a more pleasing photo.

In fact, some cameras have a graph that you can overlay in the viewfinder (or screen) to mimic this grid to perform rule-of-three composition.

Also note that there are other rule-of-thirds boxes - even complex Fibonacci Spirals. That all seems to be over-thinking to me. Just remember the tic-tac-toe box is the fundamental rule-of-thirds concept, and take some photos.



Beach - Central Florida

The above examples should show the effect the rule-of-thirds provides. On the left, the photo is centered, and it is interesting enough The right photo, with the subject in the lower-right third provides a more dramatic scene, and provides some coupling to the environment.


Combining elements of the foreground with the background

Often, dramatic results can be achieved by combining an element of the foreground to the background as shown on the right photo. You have to be careful here though as you can over-do it if you have too much foreground - especially if the main subject is the background.

This type of composition is often called "story-telling". When you perform this kind of composition, the trick here is to focus on the foreground with an aperture of f/11 or smaller so you get enough Depth of Field so that everything - front to back - is in focus.

Experimentation is the key here, and you will come upon just the right balance. These photos also employ the rule-of-thirds.



The Pitons - St. Lucia


In this second example, the addition of the foreground by slightly changing the camera's position, adds a dramatic element to the photo.



Great Bay - Philipsburg, St. Maartin


Lowering the angle of the photo.

These results are similar to the ones above, except that the foreground was added by simply zooming out a bit - getting lower to the ground and taking a photo from a low angle. This often ads the foreground for a much more dramatic photo. Often the photo is there - you just have to find it.



Ffryes Beach - Antigua

Also note an interesting effect. In the above photo, the right photo seems more squared, while the left photo seems more elongated. In fact both photos are the exact same size; it is how your eye is directed in each photo that makes them different.

Please note that in the above photos (that show both a foreground and background), you will want to use a small aperture to ensure both foreground and background are in focus.

Ignore diffraction issues - don't be afraid to use an aperture smaller than f/8. Try apertures down to f/22 so that you capture both foreground and background in focus. An out of focus area caused by not stopping down enough is worse than softness due to lens diffraction.


Odd Angles.

Do not be afraid to experiment with odd angles of the camera, especially if it presents a different mood. And sometimes it is necessary to do so to capture the correct lighting, or to keep something objectionable out of the photo.



Marigot Bay - St. Lucia


Speaking of Angles.

Generally when you take a photo at other than right-angles to the subject, the photo is more pleasing and shows more detail. Compare thet two photos below, the photo to the right gives a sense of depth and a 3 dimensional perspective. It is generally better than taking a photo parallel or perpendicular to the subject.



2009 Nissan Maxima - USA


Close closeups.

When you see something of interest and it deserves a close up, then get close up. Don't be afraid to fill the screen with the subject of interest. Especially if you add some of the other aspects of composition such as an angular shot.



2011 Street Rod Nationals North - Kalamazoo, Mi USA



Also look for patterns in photos - especially patterns that do not occur in nature. They just add a lot of interest to the photo.



On board Freedom of the Seas             Little Stirrup Cay (Coco Cay), Bahamas


Capture the Perspective.

Above all, make sure you capture enough of the scene to put the subject into prespective - even if it violates the rule-of-thirds (remember, rules are made to be broken). While the left photo is interesting enough, it does not capture the drama of the scene like the right photo does.



Maho Beach - St. Maartin