Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

The Dark Horse Region

The Dark Horse Region
A View into the center of the Milky Way

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seeing Photographically - Framing Light

I once said to a class of high school journalism students, "...the difference between taking a snapshot and capturing photo's that stir the imagination is understanding how to see photographically."  Seeing photographically is a complex and instinctive subject, but one of the most important and often overlooked elements is the understanding of and using composition effectively.

Light is the key ingredient for all photographs, but composition is the frame upon which light is stretched to build those amazing shots.  A simple blog could never fully cover the subject of what follows is a basic primer on a few of the fundamentals.  Using these simple fundamentals help to build the foundation of your photographic skill.

One of the best tools for learning about composition is to use one of those simple point and shoot disposable film cameras.  The only thing you can control with that kind of camera is the composition so you can spend more time concentrating on framing the image as opposed to worrying about the exposure.  Learning about composition is an ongoing adventure, but lets start with one of the most basic of the concepts:  The Rule of Thirds.

Divide your image into a tic-tac-toe grid with nine squares covering the scene.  In the middle you will see four points where all the lines intersect.  These points are important subject position locations within the frame.  You see, in order to generate more visual appeal, your subject should be placed somewhat off center.  These four points provide a good position reference.  You will also notice that your image is also divided into three separate sections both vertically and horizontally.  Generally speaking your image should also be divided into thirds with the foreground material located in the bottom third, middle ground in the middle third, and background in the top third.  You can of course use any number of variations on that theme, but the idea is to break apart your image to create a visually appealing composition.

Along those same lines of thought, framing your subject also generates strong points of interest within a scene.  Almost anything can be overhanging tree limbs, fences, barn doors, clouds...even light and dark get the idea.  Just think a little creatively and let your imagination take control...the idea is to look for those things that help define the subject.

When you are out photographing, think in terms of angles...or in other words, don't always shoot from eye level.  Kneel down or sit low to the ground or rotate the camera.  Simple things like that will often give your composition a fresher look.

In an earlier blog entry I wrote about Simplicity of Purpose...or simplifying your composition by making sure that everything in your image is there for a reason and contributes to the overall effect.  It does not mean that an image may lack for complex detail, just that it tells one story.

Creative composition is vital to being able to capture memorable moments.  The trick is to look for the key elements and then place yourself where you can capture the moment effectively by placing the subject inside the view where it generates a high level of interest.

One of the biggest mistakes novice photographers make is when they shoot sunsets or sunrises.  By their dramatic lighting, all of us are attracted to those events, but I can't count the number of times I've looked at photo's of a great sunset that was made mediocre because of the composition.  Most of the time the sun is placed in wrong location...square in the middle of the picture...and the horizon splits the image down the middle.  Shots like that rarely work well.  Usually what you want to do is offset the sun area to one side...remember the tic-tac-toe grid...and then raise or lower the horizon somewhat.  Shooting over water offers great reflections and sometimes you can split the image down the middle in those circumstances...but those are rare exceptions.

Composition, like so many other standard rules of photography, is always open to interpretation.  Two of the most important things you can do is ONE: Learn about as many of those rules as you can...and TWO: Never be afraid to break them.


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