The first time I used a camera was on a school trip in the 8th grade. I had such a great time that I was excited to come home and develop my photos and show them to my friends. My friends ridiculed me for the bad photos I took. Truth be told, I thought they were pretty good, so I was hurt they didn't think so.
I rarely touched a camera after that.
Then I took a long trip bouncing around Europe for a year when I turned 30. I couldn't ignore the camera anymore. But cameras had turned digital by then and I didn't know a single thing about them. I turned to a friend who did know about digital cameras (I had gotten new friends at this point) and helped me pick out a point-and-shoot camera.
I took so many photos when I was traveling. I must've averaged about 100 photos at each town I visited. While I think it's important to understand how a camera functions and how to control the light, I also think that this is only half the equation when it comes to taking good photos. This is what I learned while taking thousands of photos while abroad.
Composition is just as important as knowing how to use your camera. Without setting up the photo properly, you will only result in a weak photo. Shooting still life photos is different from taking travel and landscape photos, although the techniques can transfer well. Still life photography just requires a bit more arrangement and styling.
If you find yourself wanting to give your photos a bit of a boost, try out these 5 composition techniques below.
1 | LAYERING
One way to add dimension to your photos is to layer your objects. An object sitting alone on a textural background might be interesting, but it could be made even more eye catching by placing it on a plate, a tray, or a piece of fabric.
Consider this image to the left as an example. There are three layers in this composition. The first is the wood cutting board, the second is the grid patterned napkin and the third layer is the drink, which is the focal point for this shot. Imagine the drinks by themselves on the dark background. It’s pretty quiet and forgettable, isn’t it? That’s the power of layering. Try this technique in your next composition!
2 | CONTRAST
If your photos lack color or texture, create drama through contrast. This can be done by using opposites of anything: blue vs. red; silver vs. gold; hard vs. soft; geometrics vs. florals.
Using contrast in your composition creates drama and excitement in your photo. My recommendation when you use this technique is to go bold. Use opposites that are the complete 180 of each other. Meaning, contrast white against black instead of contrasting white against light gray.
3 | ARABESQUE LINES
One of the qualities that make a really strong composition is movement. This is the ability to have your customer travel their eye through your photo and look around. Understanding how arabesque lines help create movement will give life to your compositions.
An arabesque line is best described as a fluid line like an S-shape. Use of repeating colors and patterns can also help to achieve arabesque lines. The photo on the right is showing postcards laid in an arabesque line. Can you see the movement in the photo created by these objects?
4 | TEXTURES
If you think your photos feel flat, jazz them up by playing with texture. This is a fun way to inject some personality into your photos without overwhelming them. Popular choices like linens, burlap, faux fur, wood and aged metal will take your photos out of the flat doldrums.
On the left, the textural surface is the woven placemat. You can see the difference between this and the smooth black surface adjacent to it. Notice how the addition of this textural element brings the photo to the next level.
5 | COLOR
The strongest statement you’ll make with your photographs is with color. Even the absence of color, when done right, can be very effective.
Using a rainbow of colors in your composition can definitely make a statement, but there is sophistication in using a single color against neutrals.
In this photo to the right, the pink in the flowers pop much brighter because it's staged against quiet colors. Aim to keep the colors in your compositions simple.
Now that you've read through the composition techniques, I encourage you to study my photo examples again and see how I've combined several of these techniques in each photo. There's no quiz, but it'll be fun to point them out!
Which of these composition techniques did you find the most useful? How will you use these techniques to boost your photos? Share them with me in the comments below!
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