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How important is the composition for your photographs?

Elvis Elvis

How many times have you seen pictures with cut off heads or feet? How many times have you taken a picture of ‘Aunt Mary’ standing in front of the ‘Empire State Building’ (or whatever) and when you get the picture back from the photo lab you can’t tell if its Aunt Mary or Uncle John?

Composition is an extremely important factor in taking a good photograph. Most of the more expensive 35mm cameras have viewfinders that show pretty well what you are going to get. These are commonly called SLR’s or Single Lens Reflex cameras. What this means to the user is ‘wysiwyg’ or ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’. The reason the view is so accurate is the fact the operator is looking through the actual ‘taking’ lens and not just a simple viewfinder.

A viewfinder camera (like single-use or digitals) on the other hand has a ‘viewing’ system that is independent of the ‘taking’ system. This can cause problems in some cameras. You have to do some experimentation to find out if yours is one. A general rule of thumb is to move in on your subject until you see exactly what you want to photograph and then move back a couple of feet to leave a little room on all sides of your composition. Play with your camera until you know exactly what you can do with it.

Take a few moments to really look at what you are shooting. ‘Snap’ shots are all well and good once you become good enough to compose a scene quickly but they don’t always work out the way you might want. Guess how I know about that little rule!

Just because you see something on the edge of your viewfinder when you take the photo, it doesn’t mean you will see it on the finished picture. This has to do with cropping during the printing phase of photograph production.

How important is the composition for your photographs?

There’s a difference in the proportional dimensions of a 35mm negative and an 8X10 print for instance. Printing the full negative will produce a print that is closer to 8X12. This is why the industry changed the standard print size from 3 ½ X 5 to 4 X 6. Too many customer complaints were being received because of the severe cropping. Even with today’s superior printing technology, if a photographer shoots a little too ‘tight’, there is a very real danger of losing some of the image on the very edge of the negative.

Years ago the movie industry thought it was absolutely essential to get an actor’s entire head in a given shot or scene. There was no such thing as “tight” shooting. Look at what’s happened in the past 25 years!

The same principle applies to our own pictures. You can get far more pleasing photographs if you don’t always include Aunt Mary’s feet in the picture. Whether you’re shooting the Grand Canyon or the Empire State Building you can get a very pleasing shot of Uncle Gordon standing in front and off to the side a bit without including anything lower than his waist.