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  • Writer's pictureShivaram Ainavolu

Composition: The Power of Simplicity

Updated: Dec 18, 2022

“Simplify, simplify, simplify.” ~ Henry David Thoreau “One ‘simplify’ would have sufficed.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


It took me years to figure out that photographic composition is about organization of elements in the frame, that making a photograph has so much more to do with my decisions than it does with the scene in front of me.


Before that realization, I raised the camera to my face secure in my assumption that the subject of the scene was amazing enough to carry the photograph as long as I nailed my focus and exposure. I was OK with my photographs documenting what I saw, but had no idea that I was learning to speak a language that would allow me to interpret, and to comment upon, what I was seeing. And to do that I needed to compose intentionally.


Composition allows us to organize the photograph. My choice of lens, orientation of frame, where I place elements in that frame by my position relative to those elements (a little forward, to the left, or getting lower than) can change everything. It can make one thing important and another thing trivial, or vice versa. It can lead the eye into the frame or out of it. It can create a unified whole of the elements or make a jumbled mess of them. Because how we think about something determines what we do with it.





Emotion


Putting “the strongest way of seeing” into practice isn’t easy, but I believe it all comes down to emotion. Think of it like this: Your composition should complement your subject. If you’re photographing an intense, apocalyptic storm cloud overhead, feel free to arrange an intense, apocalyptic composition! Get their emotions on the same page.


Ultimately, I find it helpful to have the same two questions going through my head when I’m taking a photo: “What emotions are my subjects giving off? And how can I arrange my composition to give off those same emotions?”


Structure


Your composition also determines the path of a viewer’s eye through the photo. Even though you can’t know the exact path a viewer’s eye is going to take, you can nudge things one way or another.

Do you want your viewer to pay more attention to the mountains in the background of an image? Look for lines in the foreground or sky that point toward them. Or, wait until the light at sunset shines on the mountain peaks with brilliant color. Do what you can to make the mountains a destination for your viewer’s attention. I always find it interesting how our eyes flow through a photo subconsciously. For instance, we intuitively follow along the path of lines in an image, especially straight lines. Even more than that, we spend substantial time looking at subjects and jumping from each important subject in the photo to the next.


This is the power of composition. By changing the arrangement of some elements here and there, you change the photo’s entire structure – and therefore how a viewer’s eye flows through the image.


Control


Photographers tend to forget that they have tremendous control over the size and placement of the different objects in an image. And no, I’m not talking about moving around your subject in Photoshop after the fact. I’m not even talking about moving things around in a studio where you have full control over your photo.

Instead, any time you’re taking pictures, simply changing your camera position and focal length can have huge effects on the composition you get. Do you want a tree that’s bigger than a mountain? Done. Just walk up close and use a wide angle lens.


Now that you have an idea of what composition is and why it’s so powerful, See you soon looking at the specific tools at your disposal to help compose better photos.


Love for the photography

--Shivaram

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