Hands of a photographer holding photo camera

Making the best use of positive and negative space

In a world where cameras are available on every smartphone, where digital cameras are in abundance, and where visual social media such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook dominate the lives of millions, it is not surprising that photography has grown in popularity. Yet, the number of novice compositions litters posts and the media. And while there is nothing wrong with just pointing and shooting your image, those who wish to bring their images to the next level (and consequently get more likes, comments, shares, or demands for print) should focus on the composition.

It is not just about the main subject

When taking a photograph, it is essential to note that although the picture will draw attention to the main character, it is not solely about the character. You must consider the background as well as the supporting components of the picture to be taken. For example, if you are taking a portrait picture, does the background have a ton of people? If so, what are those people doing? It may be a situation where you need to blur or fade the background to bring focus on the main character. Even when you are not taking portrait pictures, there are still supporting pieces that bring emphasis to the composition. Take for example the image below. Though the focus is clearly on the softball, the grass and the way in which it interacts with the softball has been considered.


Lights and Darks

Just like laundry washing, you should take consideration of your lights and darks. But this reference is to your shadows, lighting, and highlights. Idealistically, we want our light source to come from one direction. The graphic artist tends to use this mono-directional use of light when creating character sheets and other illustrations. However, the truth is that lights and shadows come from many different angles when shooting, especially when capturing a live event where staging is not an option. When composing your photograph, try to use dynamics in the lights and darks to add some interest to the piece. Keep in mind that the lighting greatly influences the mood of the piece. For example, if you have a portrait which is lit from under the character the presumption is that there is something sinister going on (as the shadows which are caused are on the side of the face and only certain features are highlighted), while if you light the portrait from the top that same person gets a celestial aesthetic (sort of a holiness raining down on the person). In nature photography, using the sky’s natural lighting but adjusting your f-stop or white balance can give you dramatic effects. In the photo below, no filters were added. The artist instead used the darkness of dawn to create a sort of black negative space with the trees while highlighting the clouds.

Taking a picture in black and white? Be careful of the shadows and the highlights as these can blend in with the colors. This is one of the reasons why it is strongly recommended that if you wish to have a black and white that you set the shot up to do so from the start. Pushing the filter buttons on Instagram or other photo editing software will give sporadic results. Curve adjustments could help do diminish blending between the main focal point and the lights and darks, but you still run the risk of unwanted “blending” if you do not take the lights and darks into consideration from the start.

Picking what is seen

Not all photographs are based upon living subjects, meaning that objects and interesting visuals may be the focus. Trends tend to create close-ups or extreme close-ups of this type of content. But just hitting the zoom to bring focus to the picture is not a habit to get into. Sometimes, as any classy woman will tell you, it is not what you reveal to the viewer but what you hide which adds the most interest. Try off-centering your picture, focusing on the geometries within the shape, adjusting the focal length of your camera so that part of the image is sharp and another part is faded.

In addition to choosing what is seen, you can add interest to your photographic composition by performing an extreme close-up. Typically, this sort of photographs adds a bit of artistry to the piece as it accents the curves and the lighting of the composition.

Remember that a picture says 1000 words

The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is true. Photography is as much about the artistic expression as painting and other mediums. What is your picture saying? What are you trying to convey? Have fun, stay focused, and your photography will yield great results.

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