Taking the perfect picture is more than just pointing and shooting. Several elements have to come together, with the most important being exposure and composition. Composition in plain English is how the image is composed, and it's not just what's in the image, but where the key elements are in the image.It's the difference between a good photo and an outstanding one, and gives your images the 'Wow!' factor. I'll add that although there's good and bad composition of photo's, it's often down to personal taste as to what makes good composition. There's several ways in which you can take a shot, but remember a golden rule: Don't just point and shoot, think about your composition first. In this tutorial, you'll learn the basics of good composition.
The photo on the right has the castle off centre. The path starts at the edge of the picture, and the viewers eye is drawn along it to the focal point of the picture, the castle. Also the girl is looking at the castle and the viewer is left wondering what she is thinking.
Whilst this picture of Dunnotar Castle is fine as a landscape, it's composition could be better. For a well composed photograph, the main subject of the photo should be off centre.There is another way  could have been taken..
Anything that draws the viewers eye to the main focal point of the image could be a leading line. The leading line in the picture on the right  of a bi-plane in flight is the trail of smoke from the bottom right of the image to the focal point of the picture, the Aeroplane. Following the smoke not only takes you to the focal point, it also gives you a sense of the direction in which the aircraft is travelling. If you use a leading line to convey a sense of direction for a moving subject, it improves the composition of your image.
Or alternatively, you could take a more vertically orientated photo. Although the castle is horizontally centred, it's not vertically central. As a general rule,for good composition the horizon should be 2/3rds of the way up or down the photograph. As with the previous photo the eye is drawn along the path to the castle, leaving the viewer mentally walking down the path.  

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when thinking about composition is the Rule Of Thirds. The easiest way to explain this is to imagine a grid of 9 squares making up the image.like in the image on the left. The main focal points of the picture should be along one of the lines, either vertical or horizontal. For example, a landscape should have it's horizon 1/3rd of the way down from the top, and not in the middle of the picture. Where two lines cross, these are called 'Power Points' and are supposed to give the composition of your photo extra impact. Whilst it's nice to have your focal point along a line or the centre of it crossing  of a power point, if you can't you can keep the subject of the photo to either a 1/3rd or 2/3rds ratio. Thus if you keep the subject just within or just over (i.e. almost filling or slightly larger than) either 1/3rd or 2/3rds of your photograph it will look good compositionally.

The images above and on the right is are good examples of this. In the upper image the fuselage is crossing the left hand vertical line, whilst the wings cross the top horizontal line.In the right hand picture, the wings of the plane are crossing a power point. Although there's no grid in this example, if you imagine one, you'll find that the wings cross the intersection of the bottom horizontal line and the left vertical one. Most modern digital cameras have the option to put a 3 X3 square grid overlaying the LCD screen to aid composition in accordance to the rule of thirds. It's easier to get good composition if you use this tool. You usually activate this by pressing the Display (Disp) button once or twice. You may have to cycle through several display modes until you get the grid to appear on screen. By having the grid lines visible on screen you can frame your subjects precisely within the squares to achieve great composition.

The image on the left is a very pleasant photograph of a flower. It looks reasonably sharp, and there's a pleasant blur to the flowers in the background. But, if you've seen the current trend for modern wall art you will have noticed a trend for canvasses of a cropped section of a flower It's easy to crop photo's. The detail is enhanced and the image takes on a different dimension.

It's also important to use your camera's zoom lens to maximum effect when composing inages. The above left image was zoomed in on until I was happy with the composition. The image on the right has been cropped from the one on the left. I could have achieved a similar effect by zooming in closer and framing the shot so that it looks like the image on the right,. Or I could have simply moved physically close to the flower, though I'd probably have had to use Macro Mode to get that close. .
Depth Of Field
Depth of field (DOF), conveys the  distance betwen the 'Front' and 'Back' objects basically how much of an image is in focus. Landscapes usually look best with everything in focus (Deep depth of field) whilst close up work looks best with everything except the main focal point blurred. The part in focus can be the foreground, the background, or a point inbetween the two with the part in focus being between the two. The quality of the blur can ehnances the image even further. If you look at the images of Dunnotar castle in the 'Leading Lines' section above, everything is in focus, conveying the long distance between the lens and the castle. The image with the two people in makes the castle seem further away, whilst the top left shot makes the castle appear much nearer. By way of a contrast, the blurred background of the picture of the orange flower conveys a very shallow depth of field (i.e. only a small distance between the part of the image in focus and the background). If your camera has Aperature  Priority, then selecting a low F number for your shot will produce images with a shallow DOF, whilst a high number will give you a deep DOF with the entire image in focus. If you haven't got Aperature priority then you can use Macro mode to get a shallow DOF, and Landscape mode to produce a deep DOF. The image on the left was taken on a 12Mp entry level Kodak digicam using macro mode as it hasn't got Aperature mode.
The height at which you shoot your subjects is important for great composition. Some things look better shot from above, some from below, some from ground level, and some from eye level. It's obvious that a portrait shot from eye level with your subject standing up will look good, but shooting a portrait from above makes it take on a different feel. A small stepladder is great for acheiving this effect. Alternatively, for a portrait with a totally different feel to one taken from above, have your subject lying flat on the floor and lie flat whilst you take the shot lying down as well, or stand up as normal with your subject side on and looking up to you whilst lying flat on the floor and take either a head and shoulders shot or a full length body shot. Flowers are great photographed from the height of the flower, so kneeling down slightly to get this height (like in the image above taken in Monet's garden in Normandy) is adviseable. However for real impact, if you lie down on the grass and try and shoot slightly upwards, blue sky makes a fantstic background. The angle at which you take your photo is also important if you want dramatic images. Head on shots can often lack punch, so experiment with the shooting height and angle to get more dramatic shots. You can use the images below as a guide. Click on each image to open a slideshow with a description to aid you.
I hope this article has inspired you to think about composition, and get more creative with your shots. Why not try the ideas mentioned and share the results on our Facebook page? I look forward to seeing them.
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