Most consumers believe that the first step to learning great photography is going out there and spending as much as humanly possible on a "real" camera. Let's face it, by "real" camera they are referring to a camera that uses interchangeable lenses. Ever since the dawn of the digital age of photography and the introduction of the "point-and-shoot" camera (you know, that little pocket camera you or your parents used to have for vacations or fun that disappeared since you can take almost as good a photograph with your smartphone), a camera's ability to change lenses has marked the difference between a casual camera and that which a "pro" might use.
However, I am here to drop a truth bomb. Are you ready? The purchase of a camera should NOT be your first endeavor in the pursuit of a higher photographic calling. Surprised? A little? Allow me to explain..
You see, most people believe that the camera maketh the shot. Constantly you hear someone looking at a great photograph and saying, "yeah, sure it's a great shot.. Have you seen that camera!?" First off, that's like seeing a masterful painting and saying, "No wonder this is such great art, have you seen the guy's paint brush!?!?" But I digress..
Now, of course, having an amazing instrument will help make beautiful music, but have you ever heard someone pick up a wonderful guitar without knowing how to actually play? Yeah, looks good but sounds awful. The same goes for cameras. The most important aspect of photography is the eye behind the camera. Everything else is just flavor text.
That being said, there is a most important lesson that aught to be learned before you break the bank on your first kit. Some may argue, but despite all of the factors that involve taking a really great picture, none is more important than composition. You could have the moodiest light, the most striking color contrast, or the most beautiful subject, but if that shot isn't framed right, it's really not that great. What is composition you ask? It is the technical term for the way in which we position the subject of a photograph in relation to the background and foreground of the image. In other words, it is the skill of putting what we're shooting in a specific position on the screen (or viewfinder) to make it look the best, and to learn this you can practice with any camera available.. Even the one on your smartphone.
Now this isn't the proper medium for a full-blown class on composition, but I want to share 3 tips on how to take more appealing photos by just moving a few inches one way or another. On the bottom of the page I will include a few resources you can visit that are more complete. These tips are intended to be a sort of cheat sheet.
Fito's 3 Tips to Better Composition
1: Rule of Thirds. Heard of it? This is one of the oldest photography tips of all time. In order to illustrate what it means, let's take a look at the following image:
If the above image is the canvas of your photograph, the lines across the canva are imaginary. These imaginary lines split your image into three vertical and horizontal sections (Thirds) that intersect. Basically, the Rule of Thirds says that the subject of you image should always be centered on one of these intersecting points (circled in red). This makes your shots more dynamic and interesting than, say, placing your subject in the middle of the frame. In the following examples, we can see how by placing the subject in these points, our image has more impact.
In this example, we can say that there are two subjects. Both the young lady photographer and the palace behind her stand out. By placing each in the intersecting spots of our imaginary lines, we create a sense of action. We can appreciate the angle of her shot, see her subject entirely, and even get a glimpse of what is in her camera's screen. Also, when seeing her, there is an invisible line that leads up into the palace making our vision shift naturally to create the story the image is trying to tell.
Here we see that by following the Rule of Thirds we accomplish a few things. First, we create the sensation of movement by showing a clear trail of where the dancer came from and where he is heading. Also, we are able to show the expanse of the environment while still showcasing his sharp turn.
In this last example, we placed our subject in the upper left third of the frame. More than anything, placing him there helps tell the story by bringing him to the forefront, yet allowing our eyes to travel and take in the entire context without allowing the background to be the major player..
2: Twisted Perspective. This tip I learned from the great photography educator Scott Kelby over at kelbyone.com. Next time you are taking a picture of someone, compose the shot within the frame like you normally would (using the Rule of Thirds perhaps) and then simply twist the camera slightly in one direction.. and take the shot!
By twisting the camera at the last moment just a tad, we create a more interesting, dynamic, and fun shot. It doesn't work with every shot, but when it does, it can really make a difference.
3. Sky or Foreground... Pick One! This tip is for landscape photography. When positioning the camera to photograph a scene, there is one rule that is always a constant. Do not put the horizon line in the center of the shot. This is to say that when you want to take a shot of the scenery, decide what is more interesting, the sky, or the foreground. To add a deeper aesthetic, move your horizon line either above or below the center of the frame, making the more important space (in this case, sky or foreground) larger.
In the above example we see that, while the reflection in the pond is striking, the star of the show is the multicolored sunset sky behind the temple. By placing the horizon line slightly below the center of the frame, we created a subconscious visual focal point that begins with the temple and travels upwards. The reflection is a wonderful piece of eye candy without taking away from the main focus.
In contrast, this photograph represents the vastness of Manhattan Island. Here, we can see that the horizon is slightly above the center of the frame, creating a focal point at the beginning of the foreground that makes our eyes naturally travel upwards. This gives the impression that the land may go on forever, and also gives a bit of added drama to the scene by shifting the focus more to the cityscape and less to the sky.
Like all rules, these too are meant to be broken. However, I would recommend learning them and mastering them before breaking them. At least that way, you will have a better grasp of basic photographic standards before you begin breaking new grounds.
A Few Resources...