Last month I wrote about utilizing our local botanical and flower gardens as photography playgrounds, specifically with macro photography. Aside from being a ton of fun, I find macro photography helps sharpen my skills and fine tune my approach in other areas of work. This is especially true with composition. It seems when asked a lot of photographers think macro is always about super close images. Those sci-fi, alien looking images of an insect’s face often come to mind. While that is certainly one aspect, its’ not the only method. For me the creative process is at times limited the closer I shoot. When my frame is full with a subject my image largely becomes about managing depth of field (DOF). When I step back to a shooting distance of even 24” I have so much more creative freedom. DOF will remain shallow, for instance at 24 inches shooting f/8 through a 50mm lens DOF is only 1.5 inches. However, when the frame isn’t consumed with a single subject I can play around a bit more. Compositionally there’s just a lot more you can do.
Placement – Centering or “bulls-eyeing” your subject should generally be avoided. The rule of thirds suggests placing your subject off center making an image more interesting and encouraging your eye to wander and explore. Placing multiple subjects off center can create interesting tension and movement throughout an image as well.
Isolation – When shooting a group of subjects try to isolate one of out the bunch. Unless everything is completely in the same plane you’ll end up with this result anyway, so do it consciously. This is a great technique for layering focus and drawing a viewer into the image. Selecting different objects to place in focus is a great way to create a completely different image with the same subject.
Simplify – My rule is if I notice my background there’s usually a problem. Our eyes are drawn to sharp contrast differences, visible patterns and bright colors. It’s easy to overlook, but make a habit of exploring your background. Look for hot spots (bright contrast), black holes (large, empty dead space) and busy patterns that are distracting to the primary subject. Simply moving a few inches up, down or side to side can often completely eliminate distractions.
Color – Color placement is another compositional tool. To make a subject stand out place complimentary or opposite colors over one another. For example yellow against blue or red against green will make the subject pop. Choosing similar tones or colors, such as blue and green, can soften the image and is a great approach to emphasize texture or shapes within an image.
There are three basic decisions we make when creating an image; exposure, focusing and composition. Today’s cameras can fully automate exposure and focusing. Composition is the one selection that can’t be handed off to the camera. And frankly that’s where the fun and magic happen.
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