There are many ways to use composition to tell your visual story in a photograph. As photographers we can create stronger images when employing compositional techniques that guide the viewer through the image.
We all know the eye sees differently than the camera, so it is a skill to organize the elements into a composition that resembles what our minds eye saw.
Since a photograph is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional scene, there is a need to show the viewer that the scene has great depth, or the subject is close or far, or small or large.
This is done by using our lens to create in many ways, illusions that emphasize depth. Any lens can work but the wide angle is often the preferred approach since it allows easier creation of visual depth.
Wide angles create the ‘near-far’ view by using perspective distortion thus giving the illusion that the subjects closest to the camera are even closer and background objects are further.
You can in effect, tell the viewer of your photograph what you want them to see in your image by using compositional strategies that guide their eye to that point. Here are a few:
In many wide angle compositions, foreground objects that are closer to the camera appear larger than the same object of the same size, further from the camera. This is known as diminishing scale.
In this image the foreground flowers loom large as those in the background appear smaller despite being the same size. This large foreground creates the illusion of depth, depth that might appear greater than it really is, and guides the eye to the background and creek.
Vanishing point is a very powerful approach to creating the illusion of scene depth. In most cases strong elements in the scene force the eye to move through and arrive at a destination which in some cases has vanished and thus the name Vanishing Point.
Vanishing Point is also a great way to arrange scene elements to deliver the viewer to the point in a composition where you want them to stop. Here the stripes in the road deliver the viewer right to the mountain, the star of the image.
In another approach the perspective of the dock takes the viewer to the end of the dock, the visual destination. Here, a combination of leading lines combined with vanishing point creates an image strong on composition.
Stacking is the term for arranging elements to overlap in the composition. This approach can work for many subjects such as trees in the forest and it is one of the visual approaches that work well with telephoto lenses.
This Antelope Canyon image is a great example of stacking where the foreground elements are partially in front of the background elements in an overlap manner.
Another popular and effective visual approach is leading lines. While this approach often uses lines, the elements in the scene the lead the eye do not by any means have to be lines. They could be objects of any shape that when framed in the composition, lead the eye.
These power lines in the desert, illuminated by the setting sun, lead the eye through the frame and essentially point at the mountain in the background.
As I mentioned, not all ‘leading’ elements need to be lines. Here the steps guide the eye to the waterfall in the background in an almost inviting way. With the steps much larger in the foreground, it is natural for the eye to be attracted to this area first and then move on to the background.
This image uses sandstone layers to guide the eye into the scene and eventually the horizon.
The near-far concept uses foreground elements combined with mid-ground and distant elements to create the sense of depth. We subconsciously view items in the foreground to be closer while the background is further and the careful arrangement of scene composition can emphasize this.
In many ways a near-far can be created with any lens and not require the wide angle to over emphasize the foreground.
This image shows the near-far approach. Shot with a normal lens, the sagebrush in the foreground provide the sense that they are close to the camera while the rock is in the distance. The sunrise light on the sagebrush adds additional emphasis to the foreground.
There are many ways to create imagery that wows your viewers and guides them through a photograph. These examples are just a sample of varying approaches that have traditionally worked well for nature photographers.
There is as well, many images that several compositional approaches and create even stronger images that win over fans of your photography.
If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment.