BUILDING PHOTOGRAPHS:
exploring the elements of composition
The second of four newsletters
about composing strong pictures

Not all elements of composition are created equal - often we have favourites that we are drawn to using, even if just for a certain period of time during our growth as photographers. Remember, a strongly composed photograph can hold a viewer's interest briefly, but without some kind of relevance, or meaningful subject matter, images can feel empty and boring. To find relevant subjects is simple - we need not look any further than our own interests. Often our personal interests have a universal dimension if we explore them deeply enough. Click on the photo above for more info about it.

Dominant Foreground: Contributing Background
(DFCB)

Not all foregrounds are created equal. For instance, some foregrounds are there to tickle our interest then lead us into the main substance of the picture. They play a secondary role in the photo. In the images below the foreground plays a dominant role.
Learn to do this and your photographs will be stronger and more interesting.

T his image, made during a children's political rally in Cuba, came about by wading into the crowd, talking to people with my rudimentary Spanish and being spontaneous.

The photo was chosen as the best from a sequence made of these kids - as I kept making pictures of this group the boy pushed himself up to the front and became the centre of interest in the foreground. A 35mm prime was used to give me the wide coverage of the group at close range. The crowd in the background contributes greatly to setting the 'little man' firmly in his place. I asked for permission but not a pose - he came with that all by himself.

NB - To be successful when working in crowds I like to use a short focal length prime lens and preset my controls. In this case to an aperture of f-11. Then I make some test exposures and go for it.
EXERCISE: to practice composing with dominant foreground and contributing background (DFCB), I suggest you start by using a friend or family member who's willing to go out into the streets with you for an hour so you can practice. Study the photos in this newsletter and if you need to email me for some suggestions.

If you are at an intermediate or advanced level with your photography then just hit the streets and practice with strangers. Remember that small shifts in camera positions can really change the feel of an image; so try the same shot from at least 5-6 slightly different positions.

At first work with a wide or medium wide angle prime lens or a wide zoom. Don't try to blur out the background (or create bokeh) that's for another time.

Once you 'get it' in the streets with people then try applying this element of composition to landscape or urban landscape images - tip: landscapes are harder to do well than people.


More Thoughts on 
Building Strong Photographs:
deliberate practice

The examples shown so far have people in the foreground - in the photo of Niagara Falls below, you can see this visual building block (DFCB) at work in a landscape photograph - in fact it's quite widely used in the landscape genre, where we are often faced with a vast scene that needs a visual anchor to help guide us through, and make sense of, an image.
Tips For Learning
Dominant foreground and contributing background

  • use the examples in this newsletter to absorb the basic 'look and feel' of dominant foreground contributing background.

  • keep in mind that often two or three elements of composition are used at the same time. Try to find and study examples that are 'pure'. To start with, practice DFCB by itself.

  • when surfing through photography sites, books and other content, be mindful to be on the lookout for this way of composing ie find your own examples. Visualize this.

  • follow the exercise above - practice making this kind of photograph over and over again until you can do it without thinking.

  • to start with use a wide to medium wide angle lens to explore how to integrate this 'soft technique' into your photography. It's easier to practice DFCB with a 'short' lens, then work your way up to using a medium or telephoto range lens.

  • shy about including people in your photos? no problem - start with friends or family - then move onto landscape and streetscape images.

Thank You
  Many thanks for taking a look at my newsletter. You're welcome to email me with suggestions for future content, feedback, or just to say hi and keep in touch.

all the best 
Michael
contact Michael 
office 416 778 6521
mobile 647 286 1705
m ichael@michaelobrienphoto.com 
www.michaelobrienphoto.com