The Power of Composition

Our job as photographers is not simply to take photos, but to take photos in such a way as to hold the attention of those looking at our photos and make them want to look at our photos. The basics of composition we have already handled earlier, but in this tutorial we are going to look more deeply into it. In that earlier tutorial we learned about the rule of thirds, giving space to eyes and movement, leading lines, filling the frame, backgrounds and point of view. To refresh our memories, the banner above employs filling the frame while the photo below uses the rule of thirds, giving space to eyes, and being down at eye level with your subject.

In the above example I also used depth of field to help focus attention on the seal's face and expression. I shot the image wide open using a telephoto which blurred out the background in a very pleasing manner as well as much of the foreground. Depth of field is an incredibly powerful compositional tool. Take this image below taken at Sputie Burn waterfall along the back shore near Brora as an example. In the first image your eyes really have no idea where to look. The subject is obviously the balancing stones, but the background is so distracting your eyes go all over the place and can't find anything to look at. Your eyes keep going around the image looking at the waterfall, the stones, the shingle, the green moss around the waterfall and the plants and quickly tire of the image. I mean really, it's just a mess.

In this second photo, I shot wide open for a shallow depth of field and blurred out the background. Now your eyes remain on the stones where they are supposed to be. Depth of field turned this photo from a distracting mess into a powerful image.

In an emergency a vignette can rescue an image from a messy background, but try to get the depth of field right when taking the photo.

Sometimes however you may want a wide depth of field to have everything in focus. This photo below of a common seal works well with a shallow depth of field, but it also works well with a wide depth of field which brings in the seal's environment and the snowy Cairngorm Mountains in the background. Both of these images work well, so it's good to think about depth of field and what you want to convey before taking your photo. The first photo adds a sense of isolation to the seal, while the second conveys the magnificence of the environment in which the seal lives. That's how powerful depth of field really is.

Another thing to watch out for is to ensure stuff doesn't break the border of your photo or distract eyes from your subject. In the first photo below of a crab shell, your eyes can't stay on the crab but keep being distracted by the stones breaking the edges of the photo and the stones in the sand behind. In the second image I have removed the distracting stones and your eyes remain fixed on the crab, which is what I wanted. Try it for yourself and see. This is not an optical illusion, this is the power of composition.

Credits -  All photos copyright George Maciver - all rights reserved.