Adapted from an SPS Grads program lesson by Erica Ogden
Composition can take a snapshot like this:
And turn it into an image that has focus, story, and emotion:
Composition gives meaning, tells a story, or helps the viewers eye go on a journey. For some, composition comes naturally, but for others, it may require work. Regardless of how it comes to you, a strong composition is a key element of photography. Three elements of composition that will make a big impact on your final image are foreground, framing, and leading lines.
Adding foreground in your image creates depth and adds space. It takes a picture beyond a subject and a background and adds context.
As you create with foregrounds in pictures, you can decide what is in focus. If you want it all in focus, such as with landscape photography, you need a small aperture (larger f number). Or you can use a large aperture (smaller f number) and have the foreground out of focus. The art of photography means that you get to choose! Before you take the picture, think about what you want the layers to do to the story.
I personally prefer to have a larger aperture so that the foreground and background blur and puts the main subject in focus. It gives a sense of “peeking in” to the picture. For example, when my daughter was little, she thought she was hot stuff filling her cup by herself. I wanted to remember this moment, so as it happened, I really did “peek in” to the kitchen for this picture.
Framing allows the viewer’s eye to be drawn to the area of interest while the other part of the picture is less emphasized. This less emphasized area can still provide context, but it does so without distracting from the subject. This adds visual interest while keeping focus where you want it.
The playground can be an excellent spot to find some creative framing opportunities. Slides, climbing structures, and even swings can be great for framing.
Leading lines aren’t just lines, but lines that guide our eyes to the subject. Leading lines can be straight lines like a fence or path. We can also take everyday objects and turn them into leading lines as well! In the photo above, even the concentric lines of the slide become leading lines – bringing our eye straight to the subject. In the image below, the lines of the slide bring our eyes to the subject both from the front and from behind.
Put them all together and what have you got?
A mess! Just joking – kind of. Trying to incorporate all the elements of composition (there are far more than these three) into a single image would most likely be overwhelming. When you choose a few, you end up with a strong image that tells a story.
The foreground here gives context to the picture while the lines of the edge of the sandbox draw our eye and guide it past the busy parts of the image and straight to our subject.
As you look over some of your own favorite photos, try to pick out what visual aspects make them your favorites. This will help train your eye to look for the elements of composition. Soon, you’ll be seeing them everywhere you go. What new elements of composition will you try out the next time you’re shooting?