Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Composition: The Fundamental of Digital Imagery

Today I’d like to talk to you about composition, one of the most important yet often forgotten fundamentals of digital image creation. While exposure is an equally important aspect it often requires more technical knowledge and often achieving a great exposure is easier said than done. Good composition is something that can be accomplished at any skill level with even the most basic gear, even if the most advanced camera you have is your iPhone. Amateur photographers and filmmakers can always shoot in automatic modes while learning how to expose manually but there is no shortcut for good composition. Fortunately, for us all, there are only a few basic rules that are fairly easy to master with a little practice and patience. Below are four tips that will help you take your image creation to the next level, whether you’re an aspiring photojournalist or budding cinematographer.

1. Rule of Thirds - Arguably one of the oldest and most unbroken rules of visual arts is the rule of thirds, it can be observed in nearly every form imaginable, from 18th-century paintings to modern day films and advertisements. The idea is that the best place to position your subject within a frame is on an intersection of the thirds (see below). Contrary to popular belief our eyes do not naturally find the center of an image, but rather the thirds. This serves to create more dramatic and compelling images, not only in still photographs but in film as well. When done correctly you can create a sense of tension and balance by having your subject weighted heavily in one area of the image while the opposite side is relatively empty. This creates a dramatic sense of composition that is often more pleasing than a perfectly balanced image. By simply recomposing your photographs or videos to align with this standard you can increase the quality of your images immensely.

2. Lead Room - Another important rule of composition is lead room, or the idea that you should provide space in front of your subject for them to look or move. When your subject is looking or moving off-frame this can lead the viewer’s eye off the image, which is usually the opposite of what we want. By providing lead room in front of our subject we give the viewer’s eye room to explore the rest of the image, even if there aren’t necessarily other elements to explore. When the lead room is behind our subject it becomes something called dead space, or a part of the image that doesn’t add any value and is mostly just empty or unimportant space (in other words we want to avoid this). Lack of lead room can become particularly offensive when interviewing subjects; for example, if I have a subject that is frame right and also have them looking off the right side of the frame they would feel very squished into my shot. If I have them look towards frame left, however, I create ample lead room for the subject to look and gesture. It’s worth mentioning though that if your intention is to create drama or a sense of unease then breaking this rule can be very powerful, but only do so if you feel very comfortable with telling a visual story in such a non-conventional manner.

3. Perspective - Something often not considered by both amateurs and professionals is the perspective we choose to use in our images. There is a massive difference between an image captured from ten inches off the ground and an image captured from ten feet off the ground. Using a high perspective can make the subject look small or weak, whereas a low perspective can make the subject look powerful or intimidating. This has both artistic and practical applications in all facets of digital imagery. For example, if I’m setting up a scene where our protagonist is facing their arch nemesis then I might consider filming the protagonist from a high perspective (making them appear small and weak) and the villain from a low perspective (making it clear that they’re more powerful and our protagonist is outmatched). I often consider this when taking photos as I travel: how can I take a compelling photograph of something that has been photographed millions of times? The Eiffel Tower, for instance, is one of the most photographed structures in the world. I could plant my feet and take a photo at face height (about 5’8 in my case) or I could get down low and shoot up, or even better take an aerial tour and get some images from the air. Even if aerial tours aren’t available I could stand on a park bench or any elevated position to get a slightly more unique take on your image. Always consider this when photographing landmarks: how can I capture an image that will make people want to look at it even though they’ve seen the subject hundreds of times before?

4. Time of Day - This is one of the most difficult ways to improve your images because it required you to wake up early or stay out in rush hour traffic, but the rewards can be incredible. In the gif below you can see how dramatic the effects of directional lighting can be. I often use the example of holding a flashlight below your face while telling a spooky story around a campfire; we don’t often see a light source originating directly below our subject, so the unnatural shadows this creates are often unflattering and unsettling. The same idea can be applied to overhead light sources, when they originate from directly above our subject they create very unnatural shadows that we don’t commonly see. Photographers and filmmakers often refer to the time just after sunrise and before sunset as the 'Golden Hour', the time when the sun’s light is more soft and red than it would be at any other time of day. This is when you want to be creating your images, either still or moving. Not only is the angle of the light ideal but also the intensity. While the sun’s light at noon is hard and very directional, the light cast during the 'Golden Hour' is soft and wraps around the subject, creating a flattering look that will help you create some amazing images. While it’s not always possible to capture images at these times, especially while traveling, it’s worth the hassle of waking up early or staying out a little late whenever possible, your portfolio and demo reels will thank you!

Do you have any other tips for capturing the perfect image? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you need help with your photography projects, our team is happy to assist you! Visit our website or give us call at 832-831-7592.

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