In the daily push and shove of running a photographic business, it is easy to forget the basics of creativity and composition. Thus, it’s worth reminding ourselves of these principles from time to time, especially when feeling creatively blocked.
If you’re new to photography and have focused primarily on learning the technical basics of proper lighting and camera operation, then I would encourage you to spend some time learning about these principles of design and composition in more detail.
When your work is evaluated in a portfolio review, these are some of the underlying principles that will affect how your images are evaluated. Technical proficiency matters of course, but so does your knowledge of how to apply the timeless principles of good art and how people view images. There are many great books aimed at photographers, graphic designers and artists on composition. Same principles apply to all three. Start with what you can find in your local library and go from there.
Photographers work with a visual medium, and thus a visual language, and so use the same creative elements as painters, sculptors, and designers. So let's use this post to remind ourselves of some of the core aspects of our art. The core design elements and principles to work with are:
- Negative Space
- Repetition reinforces
- Rhythm makes you look for predicted occurrence
- Contrast or variety, in size or color, for example
- The Focal Point
- Controlling eye path
Some of these elements are more self-explanatory than others. For example, repetition of a certain element reinforces its visual power. Rhythm makes you look for the next predicted occurrence. Contrast or variety in size or color makes certain elements in the composition stand out.
Here are some other points to keep in mind:
Point placement: A single dominant object or element should be placed carefully. Multiple points compete and may create shapes with particular meaning (e.g, three points in an upside-down triangle can be dynamically unstable, and visually more interesting than a conventional triangle with a more stable, horizontal base).
Abstraction: Abstraction means eliminating everything from the image that is not necessary to your intent. By removing the clutter, you draw the viewers’ attention more closely to what you want to highlight. Removing color or blurring backgrounds are examples of some methods of abstraction.
Rule of thirds: When you frame the shot, visually divide the scene into thirds, vertically and horizontally. Imagine two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines. Align your points of main interest on one of these horizontal or vertical lines or where the lines would intersect. This creates a more interesting composition than simply centering the subject.
Opportunity: In any given location there are an infinite number of photos you could take. The light will vary. You can change positions, angles, or lenses. Or, you can move objects around to create different juxtapositions, etc. Since any given location has an infinite number of photo opportunities, why can’t you see them? The reality is that you will only see the opportunities that mesh with your photographic thinking at that particular time. This is why you can return to a familiar location much later and see completely new opportunities.
So you must try to expand your thinking about photography. You can do this by always trying to think of some of the possibilities listed below:
- Still life
- Low light
This list is far from complete. The more you expand your thinking about photography, the more possibilities you will consider.
Think About The End Use: If you know how you intend to use a given image it can affect how you shoot. For example:
Must the image be cropped in camera or can you crop later?
Will the shot be the whole image or will you be combining this shot with others?
What emotion do you want to convey?
What aspects do you want to show?
What do you definitely not want to show?
Overcoming Blocks: When you face the inevitable creative block, it can help to remind yourself of the concepts and ideas listed above. Often the best way to overcome a block is simply to try something new—or something that you were taught long ago but haven’t thought about lately.
So keep this list handy and when you feel creatively blocked, pick an element at random and try using it in your work. Simply trying something different will eventually get the creative juices flowing again.