Tips & Tutorials

[Part 1] Basic Knowledge and Useful Techniques for Composing Shots!

For those who have never paid attention to the composition when taking a photo, the following article provides an easy-to-understand guide to the basic knowledge for composing a shot together with the use of illustrations and examples. Here in Part1, let's learn about "Framing" and "Verticality and Horizontality" (Reported by: Tatsuya Tanaka)

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Graduate from Ordinary Photos by Learning the Basics of Composition

Composition is the process of arranging different elements in an image. If you find something lacking in a photo, or if it does not turn out as intended, the problem probably lies with the composition. There is no absolute definition for a correct composition; photos of the same subject may give a totally different impression depending on factors such as how much space it occupies, as well as whether the subject is captured vertically, horizontally, or from an angle. Without a clear intention, the image captured by the photographer would appear ordinary. In contrast, the resulting quality would be enhanced dramatically if the photographer chooses a composition that reflects his/her intention. In order to do so, it is necessary to learn the basic knowledge for composing a shot, and employ different compositions according to the intention or subject. You are therefore encouraged to obtain a firm grasp of the basics on composition, and apply them to the shots you take.

"Framing" Determines the Area to Capture

Depending on the area captured, photos of the same subject turn out dramatically different

Telephoto

Captured at a telephoto focal length, the resulting image becomes a landscape photo with the red-roofed house and the grassland as the main themes.

Standard

Captured at a standard focal length, the sky occupies a large part of the composition, with the presence of the red roof accentuated.

Wide-angle

Captured at a wide-angle focal length, the grassland and the sky become the main themes, while the red-roofed house is hardly noticeable.

Framing: Decide what part of the scenery to capture

The very first process in determining the composition is "framing": identify the main theme through the viewfinder or rear LCD monitor, and determine the area you want to capture. To capture the intended area within the rectangular frame, you need to adjust the area by altering the focal length if you are using a zoom lens. If a prime lens is in use, you will have to move physically to adjust the distance from the camera to the subject, or switch to using a prime lens with a different focal length. Above samples are three examples of framing the same subject. Note that the resulting impression changes with the area that is captured in the image.

Tip: See the World in Square Frame

While it is essential to consider carefully how to frame a scene, inspiration is also important at times. A good way to practice framing, for example, is to carry a piece of paper with a square cut out from the center, and look through it to simulate the scene you want to capture.

"Verticality and Horizontality" Create a Sense of Stability

Make sure to check the verticality and horizontality in photos of buildings

Unstable composition when verticality and horizontality are not properly adjusted.

A tilted image creates an unstable impression. This is likely to occur particularly in a handheld shot.

Composition is stable when verticality and horizontality are properly maintained.

By ensuring horizontality, verticality is naturally maintained, so you can concentrate on producing quality photographic works.

"Verticality and Horizontality": Avoid photos with unnatural feeling

One of the most important considerations when taking a photo is to ensure that the composition does not look unnatural to the viewers. The idea, in fact, is rather straightforward. Simply correct any tilt in the camera to ensure the verticality and horizontality of the image you want to capture, be it a vertical or horizontal composition. In a landscape shot that includes the horizon, the stability of the composition would be compromised if the resulting image is tilted. Similarly, care is required for images that contain cityscapes or buildings, where the vertical and horizontal lines tend to catch the attention of the viewer. In the two examples above, horizontality in the right photo  is maintained, making it look more pleasant to the eye. Even for snapshots such as the example below at a café scene  , bringing out the horizontality helps to add stability to the composition.
If you are using a wide-angle lens, the peripheral areas of the image may appear distorted. In this case, adjust the camera tilt to correct any distortion by paying attention to the center of the image.

Two techniques to effectively make use of horizontality and verticality

Raising the position of the horizon enhances the stability.

A shot of summer clouds above the sea. With the horizon positioned slightly higher up in the composition, the sea occupies a larger part of the image, which stresses the sense of stability. A shot of summer clouds above the sea. With the horizon positioned slightly higher up in the composition, the sea occupies a larger part of the image, which stresses the sense of stability.

Looking for the horizon among objects of different shapes and sizes.

A display shelf inside a wine shop. Though the objects are not consistent in height and shape, horizontality is created using the box at the center, so the resulting image does not look unstable to the viewer.

Tip: Intentionally tilting the composition for stable composition

There is no need to ensure the verticality and horizontality at all times. In shots of natural landscapes and close-ups, tilting the camera intentionally can be employed as a technique to obtain a stable composition instead, so it is best you learn how to make the most appropriate decision according to the conditions.

Tatsuya Tanaka

Born in 1956, Tanaka is one of the rare photographers who produce works across a wide variety of genres from an original perspective. These genres range from objects in our daily lives, such as insects and flowers, to landscapes, skyscapes, and celestial bodies. Besides photography, Tanaka has also developed his own approach in post processes including retouch and printing.

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