Elements of Composition in Photography

The way that a photo is composed — with its many decisions on what to include in the frame, how the lighting will affect it, and how to time the camera exposure — is a reflection of the photojournalist’s abilities as a storyteller. None of the photos presented on Amazing Photojournalism were staged; all the photographers captured a fleeting moment in time, with skill and integrity and with incredible results. How did they do it?

Learn a bit about the elements of composition, including ideas about framing, balancing and the rule of thirds, from a user-friendly website called Exposure Guide.

Also, practice good composition as you are taking your own photos by remembering this acronym: EDFAT, which stands for Entire, Details, Framing, Angles and Timing (courtesy of Professor Frank Hoy, Arizona State University).

Entire: Survey the entire scene lying before you and decide exactly which elements need to be in the frame to tell the story. For instance, if you are a campus photographer covering a speech by a well-known speaker, do you really need to show the audience? Is the audience somehow reacting to the speaker, or just acting as audiences normally do?

Details: As you survey the scene, try to notice details. Perhaps a face in the crowd at a concert you are photographing is painted in an unusual way, or the person has an unusual expression, or you notice that a band member has embellished his guitar somehow. Zoom in.

Framing: Sometimes you will look at a scene and notice elements off to the side that could serve as a frame around your center of visual interest. For instance, you might capture an archway in the foreground, but through the arch is your CVI — a person or object.

Angles: Your impulse is to stand right in front of your subject matter, but sometimes the best shot is a bird’s-eye view, looking down at the subject from a vantage point, or a worm’s-eye view, looking up from the ground to a subject above you. Utilize balconies and low benches for a bird’s-eye view; don’t be afraid to crouch down to get a worm’s-eye view. Sports photographers think about angles all the time.

Timing: Opportunities for good photos pass us by all the time. Have your camera ready to capture the storytelling moment. Utilize your camera’s continuous shutter feature to have a good selection of images during an action shot. Learn your camera’s exposure features to record a blurred background or a soft focus.

Now apply what you have learned about photo composition to the amazing images captured by news photographers over the last several decades, especially paying attention to the questions in Parts 1 and 2.

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