Throw all the rules on fram­ing out of the win­dow and com­pose to suit the sub­ject in­stead

NPhoto - - Special Feature -

Cen­tre your sub­ject

We’re told never to place the sub­ject in the very cen­tre of the frame, but, as with all rules, there are ex­cep­tions…

One thing that of­ten sep­a­rates the ama­teur snap from the en­thu­si­ast’s com­po­si­tion is the place­ment of the sub­ject. Non-pho­tog­ra­phers will of­ten thought­lessly plonk the sub­ject in the mid­dle of the frame, whereas those of us who have heard of ba­sic com­po­si­tional rules like the rule of thirds and the golden ra­tio know bet­ter – the sub­ject looks more vis­ually pleas­ing when placed off-cen­tre on one of the third lines. Or does it?

The an­swer is, it de­pends what you want to say about a sub­ject. A cen­tral sub­ject gives im­ages a di­rect­ness, and can work well in a sym­met­ri­cal com­po­si­tion, or for scenes with min­i­mal back­ground de­tail. It can also cre­ate a sense of iso­la­tion, as the sub­ject is sur­rounded by space on all sides. Bill Brandt puts it like this: “A sub­ject placed squarely in the cen­tre of the frame, if at­ten­tion is not dis­tracted by fussy sur­round­ings, has a sim­ple dig­nity that makes it all the more im­pres­sive.”

Tilt your cam­era

A wonky hori­zon can add ex­tra dy­namism to both por­traits and land­scapes

We go to great lengths to en­sure our hori­zons are straight, us­ing tripod­mounted spirit lev­els or our Nikon’s vir­tual hori­zon (top tip: set this up as your front Fn but­ton for a quick hori­zon check when look­ing through your viewfinder). We even cor­rect it in pro­cess­ing (see page 50).

How­ever, while a slightly wonky hori­zon is never a good thing, an in­ten­tion­ally tilted frame can be an­other story. There’s some­thing about di­ag­o­nal lines in an im­age that are vis­ually pleas­ing, and cre­ative tilt can add ex­tra dy­namism to your com­po­si­tion. This can work well for por­traits, as you can tilt di­ag­o­nal lines so that they lead the eye through the im­age to­wards your sub­ject. But it can also spice up a land­scape, par­tic­u­larly with scenes (above right).

I am not in­ter­ested in rules or con­ven­tions. Pho­tog­ra­phy is not a sport

Bill Brandt

Shoot from the hip

Com­pose with­out look­ing through the viewfinder for loose, spon­ta­neous and en­gag­ing pho­tos

An ex­cel­lent piece of ad­vice when com­pos­ing a frame is to scan the edges of the viewfinder be­fore tak­ing the shot. It’s the edges that go un­no­ticed, so un­wanted dis­trac­tions can eas­ily creep into the cor­ners of your scene. But when you think about it, the viewfinder can be a dif­fer­ent type of dis­trac­tion. It’s a bar­rier be­tween you and what­ever it is you’re pho­tograph­ing, and it cov­ers up your most im­por­tant means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion – your face.

So why not take a mav­er­ick ap­proach, free your­self from the con­fines of that rec­tan­gu­lar box, and shoot from the hip? This works well for por­traits; catch your sub­ject of­f­guard and grab a shot while they think you’re tak­ing a break (left). It can also help if you want to be in­con­spic­u­ous.

Fo­cus­ing can be an is­sue, though, so try set­ting the fo­cus man­u­ally and then judg­ing it by dis­tance. It’s an ap­proach that’ll deny you com­po­si­tional pre­ci­sion, but it’ll give you a fresh per­spec­tive on the world, and the peo­ple, in front of your lens.

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