Do you want your photos to have more impact? Are they dull? Here’s the good news: you don’t need new equipment to take better photographs. Here’s one simple tip to improve your photos: find and use structure to compose your images. Look at how the elements within your camera frame work together, or fight each other. Make your imagery come alive through amazing composition, leveraging the essentials of structure, including shapes and forms in your photos.
In this article, I show you how to use “structure” to add more life, the unnamed artistic tension to a photo, and make it stand out from the crowd.
What can I do to make better photographs?
Focus on composition. According to the Dictionary, a composition as it related to photography is “…the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole.” When you compose a photo, you are looking for the big shapes and forms that form the image within the camera frame.
A photograph with poor composition will be boring, uninspired, mundane. I might as well walk by the photo. Although every photograph conveys information, it is the personal way you express that information that makes a viewer stop and look those few precious seconds longer.
READ MORE: HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR MINIATURE PHOTOGRAPHY
You want a viewer to linger. And, there are easy ways to do this. Take a photograph of a car accident, an explicit taboo or act. But, you’ll find after a while that even a badly composed image of beautiful or horrible things will come off as visual tedium. Your photographs should be anything, but boring and forgettable. But, don’t take the easy way out!
Learn to compose your images through structure.
You’d like to become better at evoking something, an experience in the viewer. When the viewer sees your photograph, you want them to be a tad different when they walk away. Composition can help with this, immediately!
Here’s what you do for better photographic composition
Find your subject. Know your subject. Have you heard this before? It’s for good reason. Your subject is the message. Your subject is the primary point of interest in your photograph. The best way to amplify your subject in the frame is to find the structural elements that point to, away, or move around the subject.
Structure is the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex (source).
How do you see and use structure to compose better photographs?
Here are 3 tips for seeing and using structure to improve the composition of your photos:
- Define your subject – Look for big shapes, then small shapes.
- Identify structure – See how the parts within the visual space of your image come together.
- Squint your eyes – Simplify the image within your eyes before you take the photo. Squinting forces the contrast, light and dark parts, in the image to become the primary cues for structure.
As you walk around the environment, wrestle with the shapes and forms that you see in your field of view. Peer through your viewfinder of your camera, if that helps. Look how the small shapes come together to form larger shapes.
If you are successful, then you should be able to break down the image into its distinct pieces. There may be lines, blocks of different sizes. A key piece of information to know you’re doing it, is when you see the simplicity in the photo.
A coffee pot subject may be a simple rectangle in the two dimension space of a photo. Can you turn it into an oval shape using the shadows or other items around it? The boardwalk in the photo above is a triangle formed from other triangles and slanted lines all going in the same direction. This is interesting, because most of the lines aren’t real objects, but simply how the light casts shadows.
And despite this, your eyes follow these lines in particular directions. If you can achieve photographic composition, you have the power to trap your viewers’ eyes within your photographic frame for a few seconds longer. This “lingering” compulsion to look around the frame, not just the center at the main subject, in a well-composed image is what separates a boring photograph from an amazing one.
The principle of finding structure to improve visual interest and clear communication in a photograph is useful for stimulating interest. Here are some more examples below of how you can use simple structure to compose more interesting photos:
Of course, what you enjoy photographing depends on what you like to see. It doesn’t have to be landscapes or architecture. You can look for structure and capture it for almost any subject of interest.
If you’re just starting out, or want a kick-start, trying using minimalism as a method to define structure more clearly. Reduce everything in your image down to the simple shapes that form the photograph. For example, it could just be a picture of the bright white moon against a black night sky.
When you get used to seeing simple structures, lines and shapes, you will grow to see that more complex scenes are actually made-up-of a lot of simple parts
A key aspect of photography is knowing/seeing how our world is in many ways simpler than our brains make it out to be. In reality, our visual perception is just a conglomeration of many, many small things put together.
Learn to deconstruct the visual space by looking for simple structure.
Bonus tip: Capture photographs in black and white
A quick note on these photographic examples. They are all in black and white. When you are making a photograph, and you’re struggling to define your subject. I find it is much, much easier to find structure when color isn’t in the picture. Color is another layer of complexity.
The key in communicating anything is clarity. Be clear. Remove as much noise in whatever medium you’re using to communicate that idea as simply and clearly as possible.
A black and white photograph captures structure in the simplest way because our brain processes light and dark shapes first, before any other information. Our brain uses these light/dark cues to form the primary visual information that we use to perceive our world. Use this neuroscience to your advantage.
Color is often redundant, and does not add to structure within a photographic image.
Of course, color has its own purpose. Color adds another layer of communication within the visual medium of photography. But, in the more than two hundred years of photography, all images were in black and white. See the work of Ansel Adams or Henri Cartier-Bresson for more recent works that have inspired millions of landscape and street-portrait photographers. Color did not come into play in photography until the late 20th century.
Become a better photographer by communicating more clearly. In the visual arts, clear communication means understanding how structure creates an image.
Here, structure is information. Information that is new and clear is never boring.