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Composition

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  October 6, 2008 10:32 AM

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Birthday Wishes
Birthday Wishes

By Suzanne Kreiter
Globe Staff Photographer

The first thing to consider when composing a photograph is, "What do I want to say with this photo? What information do I want the viewer to receive?”

Let’s say you want to take photos of a birthday party celebration for children living in a homeless shelter. You have to consider what’s significant in that situation: The face of a child, the homeless shelter itself, things that constitute a so-called “normal” childhood, and of course, the party. Ideally, you should find room in your frame for all of these elements.

You can tell a whole story in one frame and you actually have plenty of space to tell it in. You have a few distinct zones of the frame at your disposal: The background, the foreground, and the middle station. But you also have four corners and four edges. You can add more elements and storytelling devices by using mirrors or reflective surfaces. These elements should be distinct from each other -- not bleeding into each other.

In the photo above, the child who chose to have his face painted includes the elements of a child’s face and the birthday party all in one. The mirror gives the viewer a peek into the rest of the room so that you can see there is a party going on. The very top edge of the photo has a narrow row of children's artwork, and to the right is a clump of children’s costume hats -- two distinct areas that both convey the idea of a happy childhood.

The background is a uniform brick wall that does not compete with the important elements.

Don't have sticky feet -- move around to clear your frame of extraneous objects that distract from what you're trying to say.

Watch your horizon line, too -- get it straight, or else it will be yet another distracting part of your shot. The only time I've seen a tilted horizon line that worked was when Stan Grossfeld shot images DURING an earthquake in Mexico. Tilting the horizon is the last refuge of lazy photographers. There are better ways to grab your audience's attention -- focus on content, not tricks.

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