VOXTIP#4 …. COMPOSITION, DO IT BY THIRDS.

Many photographers, when starting out, decide on the main subject of the photograph and then carefully place it at the centre of the image, where, of course, the important bit that you want people to focus on should be. You’d think so, wouldn’t you……

The problem is that if most ‘snappers’ do that then, as a photographer you’ll want your images to look that bit better, that bit more special, that bit different from ‘run of the mill’ images. It’s also a fact that a lot of images look kinda flat and uninteresting with a central subject.

I’m not saying you should never place the main subject centrally – indeed, these first two images work fine – sometimes it’s exactly where it needs to go – with experience you’ll get to know.

Now there are many ‘rules’ in photography which help to improve the appearance and interest value of your images, one of the most useful you’ll come across is ‘The Rule of Thirds’. It’s a simple concept based on aesthetics and perception – basically how the brain interprets what we see and how we feel about it.

When composing your picture think in terms of thirds; i.e., if you have a main subject place it one third of the way in from the left or right side and one third of the way in from either the top or the bottom. Hope that makes sense – just try to picture it for a minute. Ok, lets keep it vey simple and suggest some basic ideas you can try out.

So, first things first, do you place the main subject one third in from the left or the right – does it matter? Sometimes no, often yes.

If the object is moving, try framing it so that it’s moving towards the centre of your image rather than out of the image. If the subject is someone or something looking to the left or right, frame it so that it’s looking towards the centre of the image rather than out of the image. These are, of course, generalities and don’t need to be used in every case. Here are a few examples:


In the left hand image, the main subject, the aircraft, is placed centrally which I feel causes it to lose some of it”s impact. In the second image the aircraft is placed off centre to the right heading into the picture. The eye almost anticipates where the plane is heading, it invites the audience to participate rather than look passively. The 2nd image was chosen for publication.

Look at this example of a leaping red squirrel shot on Brownsea Island in Hampshire. Clearly, my reactions weren’t fast enough but the result is that the squirrel is leaving the shot, there is nothing to pull the viewer into the picture.

On the other hand, this family of ducks moving into the picture pulls the viewer with them, although in this instance there are only raindrops to see – “good weather for ducks”.

Secondly, do you place the main subject one third in from the top or bottom edge? This is slightly more difficult – it depends so much on the context, what’s in the background and foreground, etc. In the first of the next two images, a Blackcap eating an apple in our garden, the bird is placed towards the top of the picture and on the left, looking inwards. Looking at the branches, twigs and lichens around the bird I felt that this was the best placement and cropped the picture accordingly. (Oh yes, you don’t always get it right with the camera – you can crop to make an image more interesting.)

In the 2nd image, the heron photographed at Rainham Marshes RSPB Reserve, was moving from left to right. As per the rule I placed it on the left moving into the picture. I placed in the top half as this gave a more natural result. In this case there were no contextual issues as the sky formed a clear background.

Which is more interesting, the foreground or the background? Will it compliment or detract from the main subject?

Usually placement depends on the context of the whole image. The photo below has a lot of context – the woman on the left is a significant element as is the narrow boat and the buildings to the right. But the rules work. See if you can identify their use.

Now I’d like you to experiment and see what you can find out. With digital photography, you can afford to take multiple images – so try a number of slightly different compositions and compare the outcomes – i.e. learn from your own experiences – post them on VOXTIPS WINDOW http://www.facebook.com/groups/voxtipswindow and get some feedback.

Finally, rules are great for learning the basics and should always be borne in mind BUT, rules are made to be broken. Don’t be afraid to ignore everything I’ve said and try ‘something completely different’.

“I wish you good shooting.”

***NEXT FRIDAY – ‘COMPOSITION. GET IT STRAIGHT’***

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