How to Compose Your Photos

Exercise 2: Taking good portraits

Take a look through your camera’s viewfinder at the world. What do you see? How do you choose your subject? How do you choose what to include in the shot, and what to avoid? The art of taking photos is about learning to compose (organize) what you see through the viewfinder.

Some camera’s will let you put up the diagram you see below to help you compose- check your camera’s options and turn this feature on.

For this exercise you will only worry about one subject: a portrait. There will be no background yet, so all you have to do is compose…

the face!

Rule of Thirds

The focal point of any portrait is usually: the eyes. So where should they be placed? On or around the top horizontal line, and on or near one of the vertical lines. Why? These are the “hot spots” of the image- places where you the artist will get the most attention and interest from your viewer (the audience). Since her head is turned to the left, the artist has used the hot spot on the left. Notice that this eye also has the most contrast (difference between light and dark)and draws your attention!

For this assignment, please keep your shots standard and don’t break this rule yet (you will get a chance later). Remember a few tips:

  1. light your subject well so the image is clear
  2. get the head to fill most of the frame (about 2/3)
  3. take at least 3-5 shots so you will get the one you want
  4. keep your shots simple at first 

Now we can talk about how to lead the viewer’s eye through your composition using the Golden Spiral (which is created by using the Golden Mean 1:2 or 2:3).

Each square represents the larger part of the ratio or proportion (the 3), while each smaller rectangle represents the smaller part of the ratio (the 2). When the composition is divided this way, the viewer’s attention is held and moved throughout the image- following the path of the golden spiral towards your subject.

The above landscape photo uses several tools to lead your eye to the main subject, the grove of trees in the background on the horizon. What tools are used?

  1. Texture- the golden wheat looks touchable and it leads us towards…
  2. The horizon itself is placed using the Rule of Thirds
  3. Color-the reddish cast of the barn stands out and is the complement (opposite) of the green grass 
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