Six tips to improve your compositions

Six tips to improve your compositions

Traditional nordic houses, City of Bergen, Norway. The subject sets the scale in this semi-abstract composition of tiled roofs in Bergen.

Published on 2015/12/01 - Text and Pictures by Alberto Mateo, Travel Photographer for The Last Footprint.

Why do I like this composition?  Because it resumes the essence of much of the Nordic classic architecture in wood of the city of Bergen. It is very difficult, maybe impossible to resume the feeling of an entire city in only one photograph. That is why we shoot reportages:  because it is the next best possible solution to convey the essence of a place, person or activity.

A reportage is a set of well selected and interrelated pictures where each photograph complements the others and create a balanced whole where the subject can be perceived. In fact this photograph is part of a complete reportage about Bergen, but let’s analyze this specific composition. What aspects do I like in this image?


 

      1. There is a repetition of roof shapes that create rhythm and a sensation of depth that leads the eye to the background. This rhythmic repetition is the strongest part of the composition combined with the effect described in the next point.
      2. A human person allows me to set the scale. The fact that I included this subject allowed me to tell the viewer about the size of the roofs and the alley. Human beings are always the best choice to set the scale of a picture.
 

Put your fingertip over the person and you’ll see that the picture perishes, too many questions without answer. It becomes an abstract repetition of wood shapes.

      1. The shapes are well defined thanks to the two types of contrast present in this picture: organic vs. non-organic (human figure vs. wood boards) and chromatic contrast (saturated yellows and reds in the boards vs. white-blue in the clothes of the girl).
      2. The subject is performing an action (closing a door), which adds another layer to the picture: human beings are alive and perform actions. Would the subject been static, the picture would have lost a bit.
      3. The picture works well at a conceptual level: It explains the viewer who has not been in Norway that inhabitants from Bergen like to build their houses in colorful red and yellow wood. It tells something about the place it has been taken into.
      4. Lighting is appropriate for both subjects, human and non-human. It is the last light of the afternoon in an overcast day. Light is soft, directional and revealing. It enhances textures and creates soft and full of detail shadows.

 

Direct sunlight would have produced too harsh shadows set against painted wood boards reflecting the direct sunlight; the alley would have become an agglomeration of black shadows too difficult to perceive properly. This soft light is much better for a complex composition like this one.

I’d like to add just one more reflection about a technique to add interest to a picture. Human brain perceives photographs in two steps:

  1. The eyes scans very fast all the photograph area looking for clues to understand the picture.
  2. Once he has a general knowledge of all the surface of the picture he makes the eye examine with more careful consideration all the details of the picture.

I add this statement because a picture like this is better perceived if it is printed in large size because the girl, who is the key to understand the photograph, has to be perceived by the viewer. Once the brain is able to get the key to the picture, all the shapes fall into place.

Delaying the perception of a key detail of the composition is a way to add interest to a picture.

The girl is size is small compared with the whole image and the contrast with the background is not exaggerated. She is a bit hidden in the lower left corner. This technique of delaying the perception of a key detail of the composition is a way to add interest to a picture.

Bryggen, Bergen. Source: Google Maps.

TECHNICAL DATA OF THE PUBLISHED IMAGE

SHUTTER SPEED: 1/160

There was plenty of light in this morning in Bergen. Measured with the camera using Matrix Mode.

APERTURE: f 2.8

Selective focus was needed to differentiate the subject from the surrounding roofs. The difference in color, white against saturated reds, maroons and yellows, helped me to make the subject stand out, but setting the roofs in the foreground out of focus allowed me to remark the difference even more.

ISO: 100

Selective focus was needed to differentiate the subject from the surrounding roofs. The difference in color, white against saturated reds, maroons and yellows, helped me to make the subject stand out, but setting the roofs in the foreground out of focus allowed me to remark the difference even more.

MODE: A - Aperture Priority

I was shooting with a tele-photo... had I go to close the lens a bit more I'd have increased ISO one  or two steps to 200 or 400.

LENS USED: Nikon 80-200 mm at 112mm (168mm on a full format Sensor)

I needed shallow depth of field, so went for 2.8 and cheked if I had enough shutter speed not to get blurred roofs. It was 1/160, maybe a bit tight, but enough to get a sharp picture.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

This picture was shot hand-held. When you're not working in a studio you can just wait for someone to walk around you. Patiente is a valious virtue of any photographer.


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