In The Desert
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Rule of Thirds
If your on vacation and just taking snapshots in the desert, and want the photos as memories of a great trip, then fire away and don't worry about composition --- unless you want really nice photos. Or maybe you want to show them off later or even print a few. Maybe even sell some of them! So here's a few tips that'll help with your photographic prowess. Composition is like an art form, and can change it's character depending on who's looking at the photographs. The Rule of Thirds is sometimes helpful; but again it's dependant on the viewer, and the way he likes to see things portrayed. It's all relevant and is in the eye of the beholder. So don't let it rule everything you photograph. So let's look at a few examples!
Look a this photograph and see what's wrong. boy is that a dangerous statement. At least a dozen people reading this are thinking it is all wrong, jeez everything is centered! Oh no how can that be? Well does it look nice to you? It was a really technical shot and took some serious set-up to get it right. Try taking a photo into the sun like this without blowing everything out and without sun flares. Where is your attention drawn to in this photograph? What does the picture tell you? It was hot; it was late afternoon, and this was a really large cactus. So how do we know this? The road is shown here to give you a size reference; the long shadows tell us what time it was, and it just looks hot. This would have been very hard to shoot using the rule of thirds and it wouldn't have the same feel. Perfect example of when the rule of thirds is not the best choice. This is not rocket science, use your imagination and when questioned about a your photo -- tell them it's artistic!
You have a telephoto lens too; so you take a close-up of the lighthouse. It shows a little more detail and it also shows how much it is leaning (it was leaning). This photograph works for a snapshot to add to the others you have. But it's not in the same class as the one above. It doesn't show where you took the photo and it's doesn't tell the story nearly as well. The one above shows that the mountain is a solitary structure and not the start of a chain of mountains, it also shows where the cove ends and gives some depth to the photograph. Although the subject here is in the center third of the photograph it doesn't qualify for the rule of thirds, because the main subject is not in either the right or left third of the picture.
Here's the simplest way to explain it. The photo to the right was divided roughly into thirds. Now the lighthouse is the main focus of your eye -- for two reasons, one it's closer and two it's the most prominent feature in the photograph. When you look at it your eye goes right to the lighthouse. The 3 small boats are nice and so is the mountain and the water, but the lighthouse gets the most points. And where is it in the photo -- in the right third. And this is the way it should be. It shows a nice cove of water and shows how the lighthouse relates to the other things in the photo. So the rule of thirds works great here!
This is a poor snapshot but it does show us something. The beautiful fall colors of the Aspen trees. The sky is terrible and other then a bunch of trees it tells us nothing. It's actually pretty boring. So how could we compose a photo of the fall colors and make it appealing? First you need something to direct you eye into the subject, it could be a fence line, a row of buildings, or your favorite a road.
So where does the road take you? Where was this photo taken? In the mountains and at the end of the road is -- Aspen trees. Not as nice as the ones above, on a whole this photo is composed much better and could even tell a story. On the way to (somewhere) we entered this beautiful forest of pine trees inter-mixed with Aspen trees that were starting to turn color. See what I mean, your wishing you could go there and see this for yourself.
Let's make it even better. In the same area here's a photograph taken looking up a dry creek bed toward a big granite batholith. And off to the right is a clump of Aspen trees in full color. This helps to set off the photo with the added contrast and the creek bed draws you right up to the big granite batholith in the background. Getting the idea? The first shot above is alright for memories, but the other two are composed much better and show some real artistic ability. This is easy to do..
This could be a really long section all by itself. Here's the short version. Use a medium telephoto lens like an 85mm or in this case it was shot at 20mm with a large aperture (f 2.8) to blur the background and make the subject stand out. Shooting a subject as close as the lens will focus also helps with the out of focus background. In this case we want a lot of detail; in people portraits you sometimes want less detail and maybe even a little blur (to hide wrinkles and imperfections). Portraits should be shot with a tripod.
This was shot with available light so we wouldn't get a flare in his eyes from the flash. What's this got to do with composition, well for one thing, how big is this kitty? Does he just "pop" out at you? He should and does, partially because of the way we composed this shot. See the tiles in the floor? This give the photo depth! Now you know why he jumps right out at you. At the same time the tiles are blurred because of the shallow depth of field and they don't take away from the subject at all. Now even though this is in the D-SLR section of the site, I have to be honest and tell you, this was taken with a 2 megapixel P&S camera. You can right click on the photo and then go to properties and see that it was an Olympus C2100 camera. Of course this shouldn't really matter, composition is a concern with either style of camera..
By the way; that's Stinker above and he does what I tell him, so when I want his photo he sits for me and doesn't move, better than most people! This brings us to people portraits -- When most people take portraits of family members, friends, etc. they have them all look at the camera and say smile to try to get a good smiley face for the photograph. Bad idea, and it hardly ever works. Most times everyone looks posed and un-natural. You need to avoid this at all possible costs as those photos always end up in the trash. Here's a better solution. Get everyone together (I hope they have a good sense of humor) and have them look at the camera but don't tell them when your taking their picture. Now take a couple and tell them it's just for practice to get the correct lighting. Now sometimes you'll get a good one just like that --- camera is set, flash is on, it's focused, and properly aimed (it's on a tripod) and your ready. Now look into the viewfinder and say this ---------------
BOY, your a bunch of ugly people ----- take the shot when they laugh --- naturally! That will be as good as it gets. Works most of the time for me.
None of these photographs are Pulitzer Prize winners, but several of them would make nice prints. The next time your taking photos for whatever reason remember this and try to make them interesting. It's always nice to have a photograph on the wall, or to send one in an e-mail and get an answer -- WOW that's looks great! Most people just don't think before they push that button. Next time think about it and you'll see a definite improvement in no time.
Natural portraits are almost always the best. There is no way to stage a shot like this, short of a Hollywood set-up. Yet this is my favorite portrait of my wife and tells me how she is in real life. Kind, nice, and always looking for an animal somewhere. And it doesn't matter if there's a 50 mile an hour wind she'll still get out to look with her binoculars or camera. You can do nice studio shots of people and come up with a real likeness. Myself I like a natural pose, it seems to capture the moment along with the person.