It’s one thing to take a picture, but another to take a photograph. There are some basic rules that can help you take more interesting and eye catching photographs.
Once you have the basic rules down, you’ll become more observant of the photographic opportunities that are around you. This is important in creating your “eye” for photography, and in creating your own style. It will be the difference between a snap shot and a photograph.
Rule of Thirds:
The “rule of thirds” has been around for centuries, and is the most recognized rule of composition used in photography and the arts alike. The rule of thirds states that the frame can be divided into three horizontal and three vertical sections. Photographs work better when the area of interest is placed off-center.
I took this photograph using the rule of thirds. The balloon is off to the left. I usually put my center of focus on the left because in most parts of the world we read from left to right. This is more appealing to the viewer’s eye. They see the center of focus to the left and continue to look toward the right, taking in the rest of the image:
The “simplicity” rule is just that. You should keep your photo relatively simple. If you’re zoomed in close to your main subject, make sure that the background is out of focus or make sure that nothing in the background stands out, causing any distractions. You don’t want anything pulling your eye away from your main subject.
Here I have a photo of a tulip’s base, a very simple composition. I came in close, and whatever background you see is blurred out — there are no distractions:
The “leading line” draws your eye deeper into the photograph, and commonly to the main subject. The leading lines also direct your eye to an area of the photo that might not have been noticed otherwise. You have to be careful using leading lines. You don’t want them to distract the viewer or lead them away from the main subject.
Here’s a photograph that I took in Death Valley, California. In this photo, there are a lot of lines leading up to the top of the mountain. The lines keep your eyes moving up the image. Lines can also go horizontal or vertical. Leading lines can also be rivers, roads, tree branches, bridges, or even building architecture:
Talking about “straight horizons” may seem a little obvious and not necessary, but you’d be surprised to find how often it’s forgotten. Good thing this is an easy fix in most software programs:
“Framing” natural surroundings thoughtfully can add more meaning and focus to your subject. The surrounding can be just about anything, from tree branches, bushes, and even doorways. Make sure that you are focused on your main subject, and use a high f/stop for depth of field.
Here I took a photo of a golden monkey at the Bronx Zoo. I zoomed in close to get rid of any distractions behind the monkey. Then I used the tree branches to frame the image:
Sometimes a change of perspective can add impact to a photograph. Think about changing from your norm. Try crouching down, or moving to the left or right. Better yet, try to take a photo from a different angle, through a window, or a doorway, or even an archway. Experiment with lenses. You could even invest in a fisheye lens, which will give you a whole new perspective on everything:
Color in a photograph can create emotion and mood. Blues and greens are cool. Yellow and orange are warm colors. You can also use colors to create certain effects. Like a “wow” factor when colors jump out at you:
Sometimes you just have to forget about the rule of thirds, and just plop your focus dead center, just because it works. Symmetry can come at a price; some may say it’s not interesting enough or even boring. Don’t listen to that. Subjects that work well with symmetry are landscapes and flora:
The most important thing to remember about photography besides the rules, are “have fun” and enjoy what you’re doing. Then you can think about the rules. When you’ve finely tuned your skills, you can go ahead a break the rule. Now that’s a lot of fun.