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Photography 101 Part 2

Basic Composition

Now that you are beginning to understand how your camera works you can begin to understand basic composition. I know that many people that I've talked to think that photography is just pointing your camera and taking a photo but it's more than that. After you understand how your equipment works you can begin to get into the real art of photography and that art is called composition.

Basic principles:

1. Use all of your available space. Fill the image with the image. If the reason that your taking the photo is your daughter's beautiful face then get closer. If you're taking an image of the breathtaking valley before you. Fill the frame with the valley. Keep distractions out of the frame. They're called distractions for a reason.

2. Look at the forms in your image. You almost have to look at the people or the landscape before you in their simplistic geographic forms. A good way to learn form is to practice taking photos of still life objects, that you can arrange into pleasing forms. A good photo is always a beautiful arrangement of form. Whether it's the beauty of a woman's face, her features being forms, or a wonderful landscape, trees, rocks, and hills being forms.

3. Line or direction, motion. The direction of the forms in your photos is very important. Never have action or motion moving outside of your image. It will direct the eye away from your image. Diagonal motion lines are good, curves and "s" curves are better. The last two is probably way landscape photography is so popular nature is full of curves. Also never put a horizon line in the center of your frame.

4. Contrast, the difference between black and white. Now it is possible to have a beautiful photo with little contrast if that is your intention, this works best with color. But a lot of shots, some really beautiful shots have a nice balance of black, white, and grays. This can be manipulated for artistic purpose of course, but in the beginning you want to focus on trying to take shots with equal amounts of black, white, and shades of gray. (Shoot a roll of B&W film to really learn this principle.)

5. Color, you may have to familiarize yourself with the color wheel. (See my article Graphic Design Using Color for more information it's for graphic design but the first couple of paragraphs talk about basic color theory) Whether you're shooting nature or setting up your own shots in a studio you need to know what colors go together and why. Many of us have an instinct as to what looks good. When in doubt follow your instincts. Start out by taking shots of things that you think have pretty or beautiful colors. Show the photos to others and see if they agree. Photographers learn not only what they think is beautiful but what is universally beautiful as well.

Now the hard part practice all these principles at the same time. It's not easy! Now you really know why photographers take years to really learn their craft.

This week's assignment: Let's break this down into four assignments. You'll need four rolls of film. Roll one, fill your available space. Shoot pictures of whatever you like, but get closer. Eliminate distractions from your image. Keep the focus of your image on whatever it was that made you want to take that photo. Roll two, forms. Here's an old stand by that I did in college. Get out an assortment of vegtables and fruit from your kitchen. Put a sheet down on your table, no distractions, shoot an entire roll of the veggies and fruit making sure that your rearrange with each shot. Make sure you study your results and see which forms looked best. Roll three, Contrast, you can do this in B&W film if you want to. Take a shot of the flower in your garden in the early morning, afternoon, and sunset. Shoot some portraits at the same times, by candlelight too. When you see the results you will be surprised. Roll four, color. Use the vegtables again, this time paying attention to the colors. If you can tell me why a red tomato looks best on a green bed of lettuce or the orange sunset with the purple clouds is so captivating then you've figured out some of color theory.

If you have some specific questions please visit my Photography Forum at: and post your question there.

About The Author

Copyright 2004 Kelly Paal

Kelly Paal is a Freelance Nature and Landscape Photographer, exhibiting nationally and internationally. Recently she started her own business Kelly Paal Photography ( She has an educational background in photography, business, and commercial art. She enjoys applying graphic design and photography principles to her web design.

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