Arrangement in Composition

Compositional design is all about arranging the visual elements of your scene to create the image you want.  It lets you simplify your compositions and exclude those things that are unimportant to you so that you can emphasize what is.  Commonly photographers compose their photographs by finding a subject they like and photographing it head on with the camera at eye height.  This means that most photographs are shot about 5-6 ft above the ground looking directly at the subject.  This isn't wrong or bad, but it also isn't unique or intentional.  As a photographer, you have the ability to employ several techniques to arrange the visual elements of your image.
  1. Physical Arrangement.  Often you can physically arrange the visual elements in your compositional design.  You can move a leaf or a rock to be positioned in the frame as you like.  You can remove distracting branches from the scene.  You can plan to come early enough to the scene so that you will not have to contend with other visitors.
  2. Move the Camera.  Look for different angles to view your subject.  You can place your camera where it will hide distracting elements from view or reveal aspects that would otherwise be hidden.  You can also look for unique perspectives on your subject.  Lower your tripod low to the ground.  Raise it up higher than normal eye level to give you a unique point of view.
  3. Zoom the Lens.  You can change the focal length of your lens either to "crop" your image or widen your perspective on your subject.  This can help you compose what you want to show up in the foreground and background of your image.
  4. Move and Zoom.  You can use zoom lenses to zoom in on your subject, but you can also move closer or farther away from your subject and zoom to keep the subject the same size.  Doing so will change the size of the background relative to the subject.  Moving closer to your subject while zooming out will make background elements smaller relative to the foreground.  Moving farther away from your subject while zooming in will make background elements larger relative to the foreground--this has the benefit of allowing you to have the background cover a smaller area. 
  5. Focus and Depth of Field.  You can can change where your camera is focused and how much of your scene will be in focus (depth of field).  You can blur distracting elements out of your composition.
These three photographs of Muddy Creek Falls in this post illustrate how simple camera placement can change your composition.  These shots were taken over several visits to Swallow Falls State Park.  With each successive shot the camera is closer to the falls.  In the first shot, the falls and the river forms a diagonal "S" shape through the frame.  In the second, the falls and river forms a curved diagonal line.  In the third, the river is not even part of the picture.  My only concern is with the falls.  In my opinion, the first image is the strongest composition, but I didn't think of it until photographing the scene from many different places over the space of probably a couple hours.


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