What’s your favorite method of composition? Rule of Thirds? Golden Ratio? leading lines? So many new photographers come to me and ask “how should I compose my pictures? What are the rules?”
The rules are that honestly – there’s no “one rule to rule them all” (I know, I know, sorry…) that anyone should follow. Given practice and study you’ll begin to realize that there are far more methods of composition than you realize! All kinds of combinations of different composition rules can be followed or ignored as necessary.
Take a look at this frame. We follow the golden ratio, but not to his face – just his person. We have fantastic contrast between our subject and the backdrop. Lighting-wise, he’s dark enough to provide contrast, yet backlit to give him some glow. Leading lines are everywhere in this shot, which don’t distract or become the main focus, but rather focus our attention directly to the subject. Some of these lines are obvious, such as the stairway or cracks in the cobblestone. Others, such as basket orientations or ledges, aren’t so obvious, but contribute in a quiet yet effective way.
Even the lighting leads towards him. Shadows from above rooftops guide once again – through leading lines, but also gradients gradually get lighter and lighter from left to right. The dramatic lighting and warm colors give dynamic contrast and emotion to the scene, and the silence of this quiet alleyway gives us a sense of reverence.
I find that the fact that this entire scene is in focus, rather than bokeh’d out of control, rather impressive too. Bokeh can be an effective tool for a good image, but recently it’s become a trend that, in my opinion, gone completely out of control. A subject fits better in a scene. Remove that scene, and in my personal opinion, you’ve taken the life out of your subject. If you’re shooting a model at a pool, don’t blur the environment away, but include them in that element. If you can master control over your environment, then your image will speaks volume more than if you had omitted it completely.
I know the Lord of the Rings trilogy isn’t perfect, but it’s all of the attention to detail that makes this such a captivating film. So many films released today depend on cheap tricks. Uninteresting background? Blur the heck out of it. Concerned that your viewers are the slightest bit unexcited? Jump scare them. Throw writing out the window. Chuck all emotion besides anger or vengeance in the bin. Focus on all the action, action, action, and forget that a recognizable plot isn’t written through high-frame rates, 8K miracle cameras, bland color-grading, and fast-moving cameras. Storytelling has to be shouted to your face or told through bad exposition.
In short, I find exercises like this rather relaxing and help me understand my own compositions. When you compose an image, take your time. Think. Try to create beyond the simple rule of thirds, but try to add to your scene, or subtract from it, and help your audience to know what emotion you’re feeling and conveying.