Photography composition – Look at your background!
The impact in this photo of our model, Jessica, relies equally on her looks and pose, the lighting, and the background. The background was very specifically chosen by how *I* positioned myself in relation to my subject. The background was out of focus neon lights in Times Square. I composed the photo very tightly with a 70-200mm lens, set to 200mm. By compressing the perspective with that tight focal length, I can select exactly what I want to include in the image. And that’s the key here to the composition – deciding what to exclude, and what to include for the background. It is a very specific decision.
For comparison, here is the wider shot, so you can get an idea of the melange we had as a background …
By eliminating clutter, and eliminating everything that does not add to the photo, I simplified the composition. This is something I stress whenever I am invited to speak to or work with groups of newer photographers. I find that inexperienced photographers tend to point their camera at something, instead of framing their subject. You absolutely need to look at the edges of your frame to see what you include. This will also help you not chop off the top of people’s heads (or feet). Unless of course, that is your deliberate intention.
For me, the two most important guidelines in photographic composition are:
- Be specific about your background
Don’t just place your subject just anywhere. Either move your subject, or, better yet, change your own position. Crouch. Stretch. Lay down on the ground. Step to the side. Move around. Find your background in relation to your subject.
- Look at the edges of your frame
Don’t just aim your camera. Frame.
Be specific about what you include. Be specific about what you exclude.
Books on photographic composition
Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session
- 1/160 @ f3.2 @ 800 ISO; TTL flash at -0.3 EV
- Nikon D3
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II /equivalent Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
- Nikon SB-910 Speedlight /equivalent Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
- Lastolite EZYBOX 24×24″ softbox
- Manfrotto 680B monopod with a stud to attach the softbox to the monopod.
- More articles on Composition
- Review: Lastolite Ezybox (model: Jess B.)
- Positioning the softbox and flash
- Off-camera flash: distance between softbox and subject