Composition and your intent

Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Techniques | 0 comments

Composition and your intent

I wrote a few weeks ago about a process for helping your photography called BE CALM when it came to making good photographs. BE CALM stands for Breathe & Examine, Composition, Angle, Light and Mood.

This week I would like to expand on the first principle there – Composition. When we get to the point on our photography path where we start progressing from taking photos to making photos, composition is normally the first element of the photo that needs to be addressed.


Dangerous Shayne by Ken Dickson
1/125sec @ f5, ISO 100
Canon 7d with Canon 500mm

The big mental shift that comes into effect when we start making our photos is that we start examining our intent for the image prior pressing the shutter. Why are you making this photograph? What are you trying to say, what do you want the viewer to see or feel when they look at your image?

Composition becomes our language to express our intention for the photo. If we cannot express ourselves clearly then it is like we are talking a different language than the viewer. Luckily a number of key tools allow us to guide and use the composition to our advantage.

The first tool is simplifying our image, by reducing the complexity of the image we greatly improve the strength of our message. We must remember that any viewer of our image assumes that the items within the frame are all there for a purpose, they do not bring our prior knowledge the tree in the background is not part of the story or that the words on a sign are not related to the main subject. The best way we can simplify the composition is to get closer to the subject. Make the primary subject bigger in the frame, the OzLight team see this time and time again on courses and are constantly dragging people closer to the models during a portrait shoot.


On lookout duty by Ken Dickson
1/1600 sec @ f7.1, ISO 160
Canon 7d with Sigma 100-300mm

The second tool in your arsenal is where you place things in the frame. Not every part of the image frame has the same weight or presence when it comes to the viewer’s attention. One of the guiding principles when it comes to composition is the so called “rule of thirds”. Look forward to a more in-depth discussion on the rule of thirds in coming weeks, but basically it tells us that we should avoid the centre of the frame or the very edges of the frame as well.


Racing Home by Ken Dickson
1/25 sec @ f6.3, ISO 400
Canon 7d with Sigma 17-70mm

Thirdly, we can use items within the frame to help guide the viewers to the main subject and to express our intention. Try looking for composition tools such as leading lines, contrast in colours, contrast in light & dark, or even shapes and see if they can help get your message across the viewer without confusing them.


Sunset on the Wetlands by Ken Dickson
3.2sec @ f14, ISO 100
Canon 7d with 17-70mm

As discussed, when we start “making” photos we start with an intention or message we would like express to the viewer of that picture. By starting to examine the composition, you begin taking control of the photo and can start using the tools available better express your intention and to capture your viewers attention.

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