How to Take Great Photographs – Part II

Here is the continued presentation on “how to take great photographs” which is targeted toward an elementary aged audience. I’ve added an explanation of each compositional element which is meant to be more interactive with questions and answers.

In life sometimes the simple stated words of explanation are really designed for any audience and is especially helpful when someone of all ages wants to learn something. A history teacher once told my class that the New York Times is written at a fourth grade level, which should welcome anyone to read it. I have also been told that if you really want to learn something new, go to the children’s section of the library.

The following real life field photo examples of compositional elements used in photography are here to teach you, inspire you, and challenge you to do more with your photography. The following elements are not a complete list of ideas, but enough to give you something to start with and something to make a goal of accomplishing whenever you are doing photography.

In many situations several elements can be combined and in time a trained photographer’s eyes will see what they want in their composition well before they snap their shutter. Often experienced photographer’s image are said to be “made not taken.” You will see evidence of that in the images below. There is a thought process that proceeds a photograph and at times the photographer is waiting for something to happen. This can be a sunset/sunrise, a person to enter or exit a frame or an animal to come into view.

This so called “rule” is probably the one most linked to photography. While I don’t like the word “rule” sometimes it is good to know what works and then know how to artfully break that rule. As displayed above, both images have their subject of interest or the focal point where the intersection of the third quadrants meets. Having a subject off center is pleasing to the eyes and draws attention to the subject. Additional elements in the photograph can help here as we see the car in the left photo helps to lead the eyes up to the subject.
This is one of the easiest elements to follow. Just take your camera and make sure the subject completely fills the frame. While it can easily be chopped or cropped later, I have trained myself to take a photograph from the view finder as I would want it to look later, meaning, I avoid post processing as much as possible and cue myself to composing an image from the camera, not the photoshop editor
Changing your perspective means moving your body around the subject or looking up or down to see how things look. It’s always interesting to change your vantage point as you explore subjects. Don’t rely on your camera’s zoom to take the photograph unless you have a zoom designed to capture a good looking image from a distance. For starting out, it is recommended to walk around your subject and look in your viewfinder to see what that rectangle will capture. Many people use their smart phones to frame their subjects, which is possible, but not ideal in every weather condition. If you have a viewfinder in your camera, then use it to frame your subject and get into the habit of practicing these compositional elements.
Meeting the subject at their level is showing the audience your subjects perspective. This applies more to people, specifically the younger subjects. When you bend down or have your camera at the eye level of a child then you can show their viewpoints and what they are doing appears more engaging.
The focal point element ties in with the last one above. The main focus is the child and the camera is looking at their eyes. If you sectioned each photograph into the rule of thirds, you will see that the eyes intersect at the upper third of the image, not necessarily on the intersected lines. In both images the items in the frame helps to lead the viewers eyes to the subject’s eyes. Using other objects in the environment is also a framing method, yet the subject is clearly in focus.
Sometimes diagonal lines are naturally occurring like in the plane photo, but how you frame the photograph to use the diagonal as a leading line to the subject is the key. The photograph of the filed of flag leads the eyes to the child running up to the building. Here the diagonal is leading the viewers into the photograph and right to the subject. The flag photograph is an example of finding the unexpected in the viewfinder as the child ran into my view and made the photo so much more exciting. Where can you created leading lines where they might not be obvious? Changing your perspective will help.
Here we have leading lines to the subject much like the diagonal lines already mentioned. Both images have straight lines which were made diagonal by changing my vantage point. These leading lines bring your eyes directly to the subject in the distance.
Foreground Elements also requires a photographer to think about their composition before shooting. Bring an interesting image in front of a subject and the entire photograph becomes more interesting and tells a better story.
Laving space for movement may not seem obvious when you are out shooting, but leaving space in the direction of person’s movement will create the vision that the person is moving in that direction such as in the picture on the left then moving away in the picture to the right. I’ve also added a tree as my foreground element as I backed up to create a more interesting perspective.
The art of seeing different is the essence of photography. Learning how to make a boring photograph more interesting is how you see and capture your images. The photograph on the left was taken at dusk when the light was low which casts a shadow of the people opposite the larger rocks. It was a moment I had to capture as a quick glance at this and the image will not look out of the ordinary. The image on the right, was also taken at dusk where I bent down low to capture the light in the field amount the plants. So again, changing my perspective can show a different story to the viewer and create the illusion there was a fire ahead or it was sunrise.
Get closer to your subject if you can. Here the owls box can be seen from the wired fence on the left, by bringing the camera close up to the openings on the right, you can see the owl much better. These images were taken for illustration purposes so you can see how close my lens was up to the opening. With a longer zoom you may be able to get even closer and eliminate the wires altogether.
Moving around the subject is another example of changing your perspective. This example shows the same subject photographed in two ways. Most people were shooting images like the one on the left photographing this famous Sibelius Monument sculpture in Finland. I patiently waited to find the composition on the right that I was happy with while looking up into the barrels of the sculpture. Meanwhile, my transportation left me stranded. I tend to take longer to photograph my surroundings, seeking the best composition for my photographic eyes. The patience and extra time has an impact on the groups I am with, this is why I prefer to have my own mode of transportation.
Taking reflections of glass or shiny objects can make the boring a bit more exciting. Reflections are less of a compositional element than a creative one. The building on the left is reflecting the area building. This was taken in Chicago and the locals would easily identify the distinctive Marina tower in the reflection. The green bulb reflects my image and the child behind me.
These are all fun ideas to practice as you learn to photograph. Have fun and play with these ideas.
Thinking outside the box is what photographers do best. Take the ordinary image and make it different. The left image leaves off the bottom of the person and the right image leaves off the top portion of the people. Without those parts, we can clearly see in both images what is going on. Sometimes what you leave out is just as important as what you leave in. Be creative.
The element of surprise is anyones guess. Waiting for the right moment to capture a bee coming straight at me can seem a bit intimidating. While photographing these cone flowers, I just happened to turn my camera and saw this bee in mid flight. The elements of surprise happen all around us and being ready to capture them can make or break an amazing image. Find environments that you can capture unexpected wildlife in the woods, ever changing street life of people or any place where the element of surprise is unpredictable.
This conclusion of what makes a great photographer is nowhere finite.

Photographing subjects is rewarding, challenging and inspiring. It has been said that a photographers best image is the one that hasn’t been taken yet. This is because photographers are constantly evolving, seeking to find new ways to photograph the ordinary and are always learning new things about their environment or equipment.

So with these examples of composition and creative ideas, you may even add new techniques to this list. By no means is it a finite list. Your photographing style can take time to develop, but you will notice a pattern in time and watch how you grow in your craft.

Happy Shooting! Leave a reply if you found this tutorial helpful and what ideas you liked or will try.

Thank you.

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