So lets assume that, like me, you want to take better pictures. Your Facebook photos don’t get likes, you only have three followers on Instagram, your Twitter photos are never re-tweeted, and you leave the stock photos in picture frames because you’re embarrassed of your own. How do you improve right away?
If you’ve searched the internet or books for answers, you’ll find they tend to start in one of these places:
- picking a camera
- how a camera works
- common camera/photography terms.
There are some major flaws with this approach. First, everyone owns a camera phone. Camera phones are so pervasive that we don’t even call them camera phones anymore; a camera is a basic feature of even low-end phones. Smart phone cameras (while certainly not the best) even give you some amount of control over more “advanced” aspects of photography. A cursory glance at my Samsung Galaxy S5 revealed I have some amount of control over ISO, shutter speed, and white balance among other settings. Don’t worry if these words don’t mean anything to you; the point I’m trying to make is that your smart phone is much better than you are at taking pictures for now.
Second, you don’t need to know how a camera works to judge which pictures are nicer. You can look at a picture and immediately determine if it’s boring or cluttered or blurry or weirdly colored or too bright or too dark. Knowing how a camera works may help you understand why the picture looks wrong, but a lot of a picture’s “goodness” has nothing to do with how a camera functions and everything to do with how the camera was used.
So where should you start instead?
Composition is how the elements within a photo are arranged. This generally includes the size of the elements in the frame, their location in the frame, the number of elements, and the relationship between the elements in the shot. Most of these aspects can be controlled by the placement and aiming of the camera and, when possible, the location of the subjects. Some aspects of composition can be aided by more advanced camera features, but there’s plenty to learn by just pointing and shooting.
For now, whenever you take or look at a picture, think about composition. Where is the subject in the frame? What’s behind them? How big is the subject? How big is everything else? How far apart is everything? How far away does the camera seem?
Try answering all these question and try experimenting on your own! Decide what you do and don’t like. The next series of posts will cover the more formal composition “rules”, but it’s important to start playing and learning on your own right away!