Only when you understand the core of photography composition can you take good photos
I used to be obsessed with the golden section, guiding line, hierarchy and other various composition rules for five years. So that I accidentally realized thatPhotographic compositionI was so shocked by the core skills. Because the core of composition is really so simple. It is so simple that most people know it, but they don’t think it is important to ignore it in practical application. As a result, he fell into the mire of various composition routines and techniques.
1. Core Skills of Photographic Composition
Thomas used to ask about common composition skills on Weibo. From more than 300 answers, I listed the names of various skills according to the number of times they were mentioned as follows:
Three part method (well shaped composition, golden section), center composition (symmetry), guide line (extension line, convergence line), diagonal (X-ray composition), frame, subtraction principle, contrast composition, balance rule (harmony), hierarchical composition (front, middle and back scenes), triangle composition, perspective (scale). The trisection method has no pressure to account for more than 80% of the answers. Secondly, the guide line, picture frame, subtraction, etc. often mentioned in various photography books also appear many times.
Only a few interesting answers:
“There are many composition skills, such as oblique line, well pattern, contrast, triangle, etc., but I think it is most important to think about the final effect in mind before shooting. Instead of picking up the camera at the scene and shooting directly.”
“The most important composition skill is, and always is, to remove factors irrelevant to the theme from the picture.”
“I think there is a good saying: highlight the key point. Change the composition repeatedly in the viewfinder until the key point you want to express is the best composition.”
The core skill of photography composition is really simple, which is so simple that most people have already known it but chose to ignore it: the core skill of photography composition is to first think about and confirm the subject of the photo, or the theme you want to express. Indeed, many people will still be dismissive even when they see the above sentence. But when I put it another way, including Thomas himself, they will be surprised and sweat: the reason why most people fail in composition is not because they do not understand the trichotomy and symmetry, but because they have never thought about the subject of the photo and what the theme is. It’s just a matter of feeling, taking chances, or simply using a variety of framing techniques.
Thomas himself often pressed the shutter unconsciously, never thinking about what he wanted to highlight, what theme he could express, and what effect he wanted to achieve. (If you have a thorough understanding, you can even find another amazing fact: the reason why most people are not good in the late stage is not that they can’t use Lightroom, PS or Meitu Xiuxiu, but that they never think about what the photos will look like!)
With a clear understanding of the core principles of photography composition, we can also find many popular but not rigorous statements.
Myth 1: Photography is an art of subtraction.
Correction: Photography is both subtraction and addition. Its core lies in the subject we want to highlight and the theme we want to express. Elements that will interfere with the subject and do not conform to the theme should be removed from the picture. Elements that can set off the subject and help to express the theme, we should add them to the picture instead.
Myth 2: Don’t put the object in the center of the camera picture, but put it in the third of the picture.
Correction: The key to which geometric composition form to use depends on our subject and theme. Three part composition (well shaped composition, golden section composition) is suitable for more natural and relaxed scenes. The central composition method is applicable to scenes where the subject is too large, serious and solemn, and natural symmetry.
The important thing is to emphasize once again: the reason why most people fail in composition is not because they do not understand the trichotomy and symmetry, but because they have never thought about the subject and theme of the photo!
2. Photography is both subtraction and addition
Once we understand that the core of photography composition is to confirm the subject and theme, we naturally understand what should be added and subtracted from the photograph:
Elements that help highlight the subject and express the theme can be added to the picture. What has nothing to do with the subject and theme, or even interferes with them, should be subtracted from the picture. For the same scene, we just need to change the subject or theme, and we also need to change the composition.
For example, the following scenario:
If our subject is Snow Mountain, the theme is to express the majesty of Gancheng Zhangjia Peak, the third highest peak in the world. There is no doubt that the composition elements in the previous picture are too much. The grassland in the foreground not only does not set off the majesty of the snow mountain, but occupies a lot of composition space, making the snow mountain look small.
Therefore, you need to subtract the irrelevant foreground grassland and middle view cloud sea, and change the composition to the following.
So do you want to continue to do subtraction, and people don’t want to do it, just give a close-up of the snow mountain?
As shown in the figure below, the snow mountain occupies more space in the picture, but it is not as magnificent as the figure above. This is because we have eliminated the people who can echo the snow mountain and set off the grand snow mountain.
Therefore, subtraction in photography does not simply remove everything except the subject. We only need to remove the elements that cannot set off the subject and express the theme. The elements related to the subject and theme should be kept in the picture, and should not be simply subtracted.
In the composition above, my theme is to highlight the majesty of the world’s third highest peak, so subtraction is needed.
But if I change the theme, the theme of the photo is to express the magnificent scenery at that time. Then instead of subtracting, I need to add, adding more elements in a panoramic composition.
In the following composition, the snow mountain looks smaller, but it doesn’t matter. Because I don’t want to highlight the grandeur of the snow mountain, but I need to show the grandeur of the whole sunset scene. So I put all the grass, people, snow mountains, sea of clouds and the sun into the composition.
It should also be noted that addition is not random, and everything can be added. I can only add elements that can express the natural beauty, such as sea of clouds, sunset, etc. If there are elements that particularly damage the atmosphere, such as power poles, launch towers, etc., we can never take them into the picture.
Through the above examples, we can also sum up a truth.
There is no best composition, only the composition that best suits your subject or theme.
For the same scene, if you want to highlight the subject or express different themes, the composition should also be adjusted accordingly. The following three pictures taken in Lijiang Black Dragon Pond are completely different in composition because they want to highlight different points of interest.
If I just want to highlight the magnificent scene of Yulong Snow Mountain shining on Jinshan Mountain, then the following local close-up is undoubtedly the best. Without the interference of other elements, readers’ eyes are firmly attracted by the golden snow mountain.
If I want to add some information about geography and environment to show that this is a snow mountain in China and the East, I can take one more Chinese style pavilion as a foil.
If I want to show the beautiful scenery of the whole Heilong Lake in Lijiang, the reflection, fog, small bridge and so on that continue to be taken into the Heilong Lake are all in line with the theme I want to highlight.
In a word, there is no best composition, only the composition that best suits your subject or theme.
3. Draw inferences from one instance and learn from others
Over the years, in the teaching of thousands of New York Academy of Photography students, we have learned that the so-called composition rules can only confuse students. The success or failure of photos has little to do with these rules. The only rule that all photographers agree on is that “all laws are doomed to be broken”! Textbook of New York Academy of Photography
All the composition rules, trichotomy, guiding line, centering symmetry, etc., and even the sentence “all rules are doomed to be broken” are all for the purpose of serving the subject and theme of the photo. Once we understand that the core of photography composition is to confirm the subject and theme, we naturally understand when to use the trichotomy, when to use the centering method, and when to find a new way.
For example, the third method (placing objects in the third of the photo, rather than in the middle) is the most familiar composition skill. The reason why the third method is best used is that it is more serious and rigid when the main body is placed in the middle, and it is not easy to balance the picture when the main body is placed too close to the side, while the position near the third is usually just right.
The trichotomy serves the subject, which can make the subject less rigid and ensure the balance of the picture. With this in mind, you can probably imagine that in some cases, the three-point method is not as good as the center symmetrical composition.
The first situation is that the subject and theme are already serious and serious, such as church, palace and meeting, so the central symmetric composition method is more suitable. (You can also think about why most of the tourist portraits don’t put the characters in the middle, while the ID photos and professional photos almost put people in the middle?)
The second situation is that the main body is relatively large, even if it is placed in one third of the position, the picture will lose balance.
The main body occupies a large picture, and there is no other object to balance the picture, so the main body can only be placed near the middle.
Another case is that the subject is naturally symmetrical, such as reflection. At this time, it is more appropriate to use symmetrical composition to express.
Not only the trichotomy and centering symmetry, but also the guide line, frame composition and hierarchical composition are all for the subject and theme. By focusing on the subject and theme, we can understand and apply various composition techniques.
I understand that no matter what kind of composition rules, they are all for the subject and theme. Then we can analyze which composition rule is more suitable according to the characteristics of the subject, and even break the convention to find a new way.
1. The reason why most people fail in composition is not because they do not understand the trichotomy and symmetry, but because they have never thought about the subject and theme of the photo. It’s just a matter of feeling, taking chances, or simply using a variety of framing techniques.
2. Photography is both subtraction and addition. Its core lies in the subject we want to highlight and the theme we want to express. Elements that will interfere with the subject and do not conform to the theme should be removed from the picture. Elements that can set off the subject and help to express the theme, we should add them to the picture instead.
3. All composition rules, trichotomy, guiding line, centering symmetry, etc., and even the sentence “all rules are doomed to be broken” are all for the purpose of serving the subject and theme of photos.
Grasp the subject and theme of the photo, learn from it, draw inferences from one instance, and you will find that the composition of photography is really simple!