photographic composition

wedding photography – simplifying composition with a fast telephoto zoom

If you can create a good photograph out of seemingly “nowhere”, then you can bring a variety to your images that is out of the league of photographers who have to rely on picture-perfect scenery. This is especially true with wedding portraits. We’re under pressure for time, and on top of that we can’t always control where we shoot. We have to make it work wherever we are.

One of the basic techniques I rely on heavily with my wedding photography, is to eliminate distracting elements by shooting with a fast telephoto zoom. The shallow depth-of-field works to my advantage. And the longer focal length compresses the image so that the background isn’t a sweeping vista anymore, but a narrower view which YOU can control with your own position. Move around to find that composition.

The photograph above is perhaps an excellent example of this. The groom, also a photographer, left this comment on the Facebook album:

I also had an “ah ha” momemt watching you create images. We went to unfamilar places and you played with the background blur to create cool shots like the one of us sitting on wicker chairs, at a dumpy metal table, outside, facing a pedestrian-filled parking lot.”

There really wasn’t much more than that – the concrete slab outside a restaurant, with a few tables and chairs, with a parking lot in the background, and a few small trees and shrubs.  Now, I don’t quite have a pull-back photo to show you where we were, but I do have this test shot with a slightly wider field of view, which shows some of the background. It was a mess.

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eliminate & simplify – the first steps in photography composition

These two images were taken from more or less the same spot.
All that changed was my vantage point, and my choice of lens.

This vibrant park in Manhattan seemed like an interesting place to photograph, but when photographing a couple, I really want the accent to be on them. The best way to do this is to frame them so that the background is as simple as possible, but still complements the final photograph. I had the couple sit on top of this grassy mound, and I lay down on the grass, and framed them tightly against the trees in the background.

Even though I was working with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens, I was shooting around 90mm in focal length. But this was enough, coupled with my low viewpoint, to eliminate any distracting elements from the frame. It is essential to look at the edges of the frame when you compose. And that is the key here in the composition – simplicity.

Working with a telephoto zoom such as the 70-200mm f2.8 makes this much easier of course.

Now, people also naturally have the tendency to stand with their backs against a wall or against something when they pose for a photograph. As photographers, there is the temptation when posing a couple to always pose them directly against a background of some kind.

A neat and effective trick is to have your subjects stand well clear of the background. This can allow you to move your own position, and get a varied background. For example, with these two photographs from a sequence, we used some artwork by painters as a background. But we stood well away from it on the edge of the sidewalk. (I was cautiously in the middle of the road!) This allowed me to move to either side, and get images which look quite different, even though the couple didn’t move much between the two images chosen out of this sequence.

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photographic composition – finding and framing your best shot

Strolling through Green Park in London, I saw these rows of winter-barren trees. The way the snow clung to the trees and branches from the morning’s snow storm, white against dark brown, gave a posterized effect already – the crazy patterns of the branches starkly etched against the white snow.

I took several photographs, finally liking this photo above the most of all. Aside from resizing, it is straight out of camera … my iPhone 4. And therein was a lesson for me that I mulled over the rest of the day, while further exploring the urban landscapes of London …

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composition: finding the perfect background for photographs

Photographers and clients alike regularly comment on this photograph in my portfolio, and the question invariably asked is whether this is a Photoshop effect.  Far from it – this image is straight out of the camera …

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composition in photography – tilted compositions / Dutch angle

I am not a huge fan of tilted images, and I see it as an unfortunate visual ‘tic’ when I notice entire wedding galleries by other photographers where pretty much all the images are tilted at a very specific angle. That just means that little thought went into composition, and that composition and holding the camera has become a reflex action .. which just happens to include a 30′ tilt to the camera.

I tend to keep horizontal and vertical lines exactly that way … horizontal or vertical. But sometimes a tilted image just has more impact than one that is completely level. And it has been a “feel” thing for me.  I never bothered to analyze why or when these images seemed to work better, since I have an aversion to over-intellectualized analysis of photography … and in this case composition. I feel that composition should be an instinctive reaction to the scene and subject.

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