Back in the day, I used to sell Creative Memories scrapbooking supplies and teach classes on the subject. “Hmm,” you say, “How interesting…” as you walk away. Come back! This is going somewhere. While scrapbooking, or crapbooking, as a male friend described it, I learned that the eye tends to naturally hit the top right side of a page first, then it circles around in a backwards six motion. In scrapbooking, this means placing the best or most important photo on the top right side of a page or two page spread, but then I transferred that same info into the photos themselves.
My pictures improved because I began applying the same rule looking through the camera. I began sharing with others how to frame subjects in the viewfinder with the most important part in the top right area. This is highly nontechnical in its description, but it works. Left-handed people may find they prefer the left side of a photograph and place more important things on that side, but even in web design or other artistic avenues, the right side gets the most attention first. If you want to get technical, think of the Golden Ratio or Rule of Thirds (please tell me the lamp in the third photo bothers you as much as it does me). If you have heard of the rule of thirds, it might actually be seen as an approximation of the Golden Ratio.
If you have Photoshop (and maybe other photo processing software includes the same features), you have the option of displaying these overlays when you are deciding how to crop an image if you need to. For instance, in this first image, you see the Golden Ratio grid. Christian’s face is close to being in the right place, but I still would crop this photo a wee bit (see the next image). I also want to get rid of the black part in the bottom left of the photo – very distracting.
Below is an overlay of the Rule of Thirds grid. You can see if I was using this, which I did, I would crop a little more of the black post that is on the right side of the page, centering Christian’s face in the top right grid intersection.
The triangle overlay is really helpful with diagonals in your photo – or so is the diagonal overlay, but hopefully you are beginning to see how composition makes a difference in how eye-pleasing your photos can be.
Final crop! Notice this crop removed the distractions, even the small part of Christian’s hand in the original image needed to be gone. Now our eye naturally hits the main subject of the photo first.
Gather some photos and look at them. Where is your eye drawn first? And then where does it want to go?
For instance, in the photo below (with poor composition, in my opinion) – I look to the top right first – either the lights or the empty space/air vents before I am drawn to the actual peeps in the photo. This photo would be more aesthetically pleasing with better composition – placing the subjects in better position in the viewfinder first. Of course, this is what you get with a 50mm lens when you would prefer a 24-70 but you didn’t want to pack every lens you owned for a 4 day vacation in NYC.
Some other quick tips regarding composition:
Read the articles linked above for a start.
Your subject needs space to look into so try to frame accordingly. If your subject is looking to your right, then placing them on the left side. If the subject is looking to your left, move them over to the right side of the viewfinder. There are many examples on the web covering this subject.
See if your camera has the option to display the grid in your viewfinder, so you can start seeing pictures in a new light. Practice using these overlays in some fashion, and soon your composition will improve. You will spend less time processing photos because they will be better at the start.