January 16, 2012
Try It: Photo Lessons for Improved Creativity

Lesson 1: The 3 Threes of Composition

This lesson was shot on an iPhone 4S, in order to focus on composition, without getting bogged down by manual camera settings.  I recommend you complete this project with a point-and-shoot camera, and focus on getting the best shot you can with a simple tool.

Composing your shot by deliberately using the four sides of the rectangular frame is a key component to creating a great photograph.  You will want to pay attention to the way things are arranged in the frame, as well as ensure than anything unwanted is left out of the frame, by moving the camera slightly, or changing your distance to the subject.  Let’s get started on this simple exercise that will improve your composition skills instantly!

Step 1: Find three objects around the house.  Objects similar in size and color work well.  To make an heirloom-like version of this photo, use your child’s cherished toys, or mementos from your wedding or recent vacation.  Snap a quick photo on your first instinct when you first gather the objects (be sure to remove all other objects from the frame).

 Step 2: Clear the background.  Ideally, you want a neutral background for your objects — white, tan, black, grey, etc.  A table against a wall, a bedspread, or a sheet thrown over your couch will work well.  You want to give yourself the ability to change the angle of the camera, and still keep the background neutral, in order to keep the focus on your objects.  Pay attention to the direction of the light.  You can tell the direction of the light by noticing which side of the objects is lighter.  In this example, the objects cast a long shadow, giving a major clue as to which direction the light was coming from.  If you need to, adjust the objects to make sure they are getting good light.

 Step 3: Explore your compositional instincts.  Do you like the objects all lined up in a row?  What happens if you get lower — bringing the camera to the side of the objects?  What happens if you stand over them?  Which angle demonstrates the essence of the objects in your mind?  Do they appear to be different from their actual size, if you photograph them from a certain angle?  Can you create an unusual composition by pushing yourself to try different angles and rearranging the objects?  The goal is to get THREE distinct photographs of your three objects on the neutral background.

 I found that the first image (#1 of 4 in this post) was my favorite, compositionally.  I liked the imperfect balance of the two similar objects on one side of the frame, with the third object balancing them on the other.  The side view revealed the truer shape of the objects, than the shots from above.  (However, if the focus of the photos was to show that they could hold candles, an “aerial” view might work well.)  Did you find you were pleasantly surprised that by pushing yourself to do three different photos of this tableau, you came up with the best composition of all?

Please feel free to share your comments and links to photos below.  I’d love to hear how this experiment opened up your creative ideas!

If you would like to join for my Cleveland photo workshop on January 24th and 26th 2012, please click here to register.  If you would like to stay informed of upcoming workshops, or how to purchase my photo workbook, sign up for my mailing list.

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