During August each year I host a photography challenge called #30DaysOfComposition. You might have missed joining in with everyone else this year, but you can still do the challenge in your own time. This post explains what the challenge is all about.
What is composition?
Composition is one of the absolute fundamentals of photography. (The other two are working with the light, and understanding the technical controls of your camera to get the right exposure.)
Simply put, composition is how you arrange stuff in the photograph.
In other words, composition is how you take the 3 dimensional scene you see in front of you and then position your camera so that, when compressed into a 2 dimensional image, the final photograph is what you wanted. The relationship between objects changes when compressed from 3 dimensions to 2, and the skill of the photographer is knowing what will happen to all the elements when this happens.
Your viewpoint is completely under your control, and is the starting point of your composition.
When you are focussing on your composition, you'll be asking yourself questions such as:
> Is it clear what my subject is, or has my subject blended into the background, or been overshadowed by something that is now bigger in the frame?
> What has crept into the frame to distract the viewer from where I want them to look?
> Am I positioned in the best place, or should I have a lower or higher viewpoint? Should I move slightly to the left or the right?
> Have I made the most of every element in the frame? Is everything earning its place? Should I move to exclude something?
> Do I need to wait for something to move in or out of the frame? Is everything aligned in the way I want it to be?
Are you positioned exactly where you want to be in relation to everything in the frame?
Practical composition tips
You can't call yourself a photographer if you can't compose a decent image. But there are as many ways to compose a photograph as there are photographers, and it is easy to get overwhelmed with advice.
Here's what to do:
1. Articulate why you are taking the photograph. Is it a snapshot or something to hang on the wall? Are you practising a technique, making a record of a visit, or creating a finished piece of art?
2. Ask yourself who the photograph is for. Is it for you, for your family, for your clients, for your Instagram followers, or for someone else?
3. What mood do you want the final image to convey?
4. How long have you got to take the image?
5. Based on the answers to the first 4 questions, you can now draw on your bank of composition techniques to create an image that meets all your requirements. If you only have a couple of seconds and you're taking a snapshot for yourself, you might only change your viewpoint slightly to get the subject clear. But if you are taking a shot you want to give as a gift to hang on a wall, you'll take your time and try a few different viewpoints, changing the relationship between the elements in the photograph to see what conveys the mood you are aiming for.
Creating a mood doesn't happen by accident.
What techniques can you use?
This is where 30 Days of Composition is so valuable. If you work through the challenge as it was intended, you'll spend each day for a month working on a different composition technique. By the end of the month you'll have a palette of 30 techniques to draw on, each creating a different mood in your image. You will never, ever use all 30 techniques in the same image. In fact you'll probably never use more than 2 or 3 at the most in the same image, but you'll have them all in your back pocket, ready to try next time you're out with your camera.
What are the prompts?
Here you go. Take a screenshot of this bit of the post so you can keep the prompts handy.
- negative space
- rule of thirds
- leading lines
- fill the frame
- 3s or 5s
- no foreground
- form or shape
- what's leaving the frame?
- create depth
- create movement
- perfectly aligned
- deliberately discordant
- square format
- single focal point
- tiny subject
- complementary colour
- eye contact
- break the rules
The idea is to create an image that uses the relevant composition prompt as the main feature of the photograph. So if you're doing texture, you need to make a photo that has texture at its core - the reason for its being is the texture that you show. Don't just take a photo that happens to have a texture, make the texture the focus of the the image.
As you work through the prompts, pay attention to the effect each one has on the mood of the image. For example, the viewpoint you choose is the most personal connection you have with your viewer - they step into your shoes when they look at your photograph. Are you going to make them get down on the floor and look up, or just stay where you are at adult head height?
Try my free online workshop
The email version of my flagship online photography course, A Year With My Camera, is free. You can try it here:
How do I share?
Please share on Instagram, with the #30DaysOfComposition hashtag. It doesn't matter whether you do the challenge in August or at another time - we'd love to see what you shoot.
Follow me on Instagram to find out about the other challenges I run throughout the year: