Today I want to talk a bit about composition and framing your shots. The idea of this post has been rattling around in my head for a little while, but it was only on reading David Praekel's book 'Composition' yesterday that I felt like my ideas really crystalised into a coherent picture. Incidentally, I have quite mixed feelings about Praekel's book and it is probably not a book that I would recommend you buy (if you so happened to be asking), but in this instance it proved incredibly useful and I'm all about giving credit where credit it due. Anyway, onto the post.
One of the simplest ways to improve your photography is to practice composition and begin to be mindful of the stories you are telling through your photos. It is very easy to imagine the result that we want in our heads, but translating that image into a photograph can be challenging and goes a long way beyond just lining up the viewfinder and pressing the shutter. At it's most complex it involves a mastery of the technical aspects of manual photography but it is also about framing your images, changing angles and shifting your focus.
No one gets composition right immediately, it takes years of practice to be able to "nail" a photograph in one shot. The best way to improve your 'eye' and your understanding of composition is to pick a subject and take several photos of it from different viewpoints and angles.
It's all very well to say, take "take several photos" but unless you have a 'process' and some thought behind what you are doing you will end up taking 10 or 20 photos with all of them turning out to be rubbish. For the next part of the post I'm going to refer directly to David Praekel's book. He refers to another photographer - Andreas Feininger - who describes three fundamental aspects of composition: to explore, to isolate and to organise and suggests that by approaching your photography with these three aspects in mind you will naturally become more "mindful" about composition.
Exploration begins before you even pick up your camera. Think about what you want to say with your photograph. Look at the subject from different angles - how is the light affecting your subject ? How is the subject interacting (or not) with the background?
Isolation is the process of refining your mini-brainstorming session to ideas and photos that you think "will work". It may include choosing an appropriate lens, shutter speed or aperture but also includes thinking about how you will frame your image.
Organisation is the process of actually composing your image within the viewfinder. At this point take a few photos, including an angle or 'idea' that pushes the boundaries of your current photography skill set. Sometiems it is the angle that you least expect, or try last, that ends up being the "winning shot".
Exploration: The idea for this photo came from some tulips that were sitting in a vase on the table. They were so big and I somehow wanted to show this by placing them in a huge coffee mug. I also had the idea of drinking the tulip to somehow symbolise "drinking spring" and the petals to symbolise colourful snowdrops. There were a lot of ideas bouncing around in my head - I don't always think about my 365 photos so much, but this time I did.
Isolation: In order to capture some of my ideas I decided my photo needed to be a Bird's Eye View Shot. I wanted a wide aperture (less than f/3.0). I contemplated putting out a tablecloth because I think the grain of our dining table is distracting, but in the end I just went with it.
Organisation: I took several photos at different angles and I actually like a few of them. I also tried a self-portrait series, but these didn't quite work the way I imagined. In the end I settled for this close crop. When I was editing the photo I desaturated the image because I didn't like how prominent the wood grain was. On reflection I actually like the brighter images, thankfully I can always go back and change it again!