Okay, so what is Composition? Composition is defined very simply as, “the artistic arrangement of the parts of a picture.” But what does that really mean for YOU? For many people, composition is an intimidating concept. You may even feel like you have to be an artist before you can understand composition and photo design, but that’s just not true.
The reality is that with a few basic guidelines, you can start taking your pictures from quick snapshots, to real works of art that capture all the special moments you want exactly the way you saw them in your mind. This series of posts is designed to help you do just that, but in a very user-friendly, and easy-to-understand way.
What I’m Going to Cover
Currently this is going to be a 6 post series covering both the basics of composition, as well as a couple of points on shot discipline (they physical actions you should use when taking a picture) and camera settings.
I know I told you in the last post that my next post would cover compositional elements, but I’m actually not going to start there. I found as I was writing this that I really needed to start with the shot discipline and work my way forward.
So here’s the lineup of topics:
- Shot Discipline: What your body needs to do while taking a picture
- Camera Setting Boot Camp: The minimum you need to know to take a good shot
- The Rule of Thirds: Guiding the viewer’s eye through your picture
- Simplicity: How to use it, and how to create it even in a cluttered setting
- Orientation and Perspective: Which direction you choose to hold your camera, and where you should be while shooting
- Lines, Frames, and Patterns: Using the environment to draw attention to your subject
By the time you’ve finished reading this series of posts, you’ll have a much better understanding of photographic composition, and how to turn your pictures into art!
So let’s get started.
The Four S’s of Shot Discipline: What Your Body Should Be Doing While Taking a Picture
This may sound simple, but improper shot discipline is one of the most common mistakes in photography. These are the very basic fundamentals that are the difference between a good shot, and an unusable mess. Shot discipline is without a doubt, one of the most important photographic principle you can learn.
Support Your Camera
No, you don’t need to take it to group therapy, but it does need adequate support from both of your hands. Yes, even if it’s a tiny phone or a point and shoot camera. Perhaps even more so than a DSLR (big camera with interchangeable lenses), since it doesn’t have any weight to naturally steady itself. So this means that your left hand should cradle the camera with your index finger on the top of the camera, your middle and ring fingers on the front, your pinky finger on the bottom, and your thumb wrapping around the back. Similarly, your right hand should be cradling it with your index finger on the shutter release button, your middle and ring fingers on the front of the camera, your pinky beneath it, and your thumb wrapping around behind and stabilizing the entire camera.
This arrangement will change slightly depending on the size of your camera or phone and the size of your hands. But the main point is for the camera to be well supported on all sides.
This can be more challenging than it sounds, but the bottom line is, find a way to hold your camera absolutely steady while you take your picture. You’ll want to breathe normally (never hold your breath!) and take the picture as you exhale.
If you are holding the camera out in front of you using live view (as on most smartphones and point and shoot cameras) try to rest your elbows on something. You can tuck them into your chest if nothing else so they steady your hands. I will typically lean my body against a wall, railing, or tree if possible to further steady my hands. And the best thing is if you can find a railing, rock, or tree branch at the right height on which to actually rest the camera. Of course this assumes you don’t own (or wish to carry) a tripod.
Especially if you’re shooting using a smartphone or a mid-low end point and shoot camera the delay between the time you press the button (shutter release) and the time the camera records the image can be significant.
So for a camera where you have an instant preview pop up after you’ve taken the shot, don’t move the camera until that image shows up. It’s only an extra half a second, but it can save your shot! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched someone line up a shot on their phone only to press the shutter release and then immediately move the camera to do something else. They typically don’t even realize they’ve just horribly blurred their shot until later, and then they usually don’t understand why.
No Stabbing! This Isn’t Combat Training, It’s Photography!
I get it. It’s a perfect shot, and you are excited. You’re practically bouncing with all this pent up excitement (except that you’re not, because you read the first part of this post and are keeping VERY still.) and so you want press that shutter release quickly so you don’t miss the moment.
And that’s when the stabbing occurs. You jam your finger down onto that button hard enough to shake the phone or camera all over the place, and you have now murdered your shot. But don’t worry! This is an easy one to fix.
If you’re using a smartphone, your finger (typically your thumb on your dominant hand, occasionally the index finger depending on which direction you’re holding your phone) should be hovering just above the button. You should be supporting your phone in both hands and leaning your body or elbows on a steadying structure. When the moment arrives, you should have to move your finger only a tiny fraction of an inch to just brush the surface of the screen and activate the button. The phone should never move.
If you’re using a point and shoot camera, you should have the shutter release pressed half down to focus already. The same bracing actions should apply here as you prepare to take the shot. When the time comes, you gently squeeze your finger down and roll it across the shutter. Again, this should not move the camera in the slightest.
Awareness Can Save Your Shot
Understanding that your body position and camera holding technique are important and being aware of what your body is doing, will massively improve your shots. Pay attention to how you hold your camera, how you support your arms, and how you press the shutter, and then see what modifications you can make to improve your results.
After just a few weeks of maintaining this awareness, you’ll start to take the correct steps to ensure a top notch photo automatically. You can even create a little ritual for yourself, like this:
- Support your camera: Check your hand position.
- Steady your body: Lean against something, and/or tuck your elbows.
- Stillness is key: Give your camera enough time to record the image. Be still.
- Stabbing not allowed: Gently roll your finger over the shutter release, or lightly tap the button on your phone.
So there you have it! The four S’s of shot discipline.
Keep on clickin’!