Inspiration Photography

11 easy ideas for building better photos

Build a better photo with these fun ways to look at image design.

What I like most about photography is the process of creating images. It’s also a lot of fun when the image looks at a subject in a different way. Those are the photos we look at and go “Wow.”

Creating a generic photo—a photo which does not tell a story, tickle the imagination, and fire people’s brains into attentiveness–means that photo is going to get lost in the zillions of images people upload and share each day. Whether with a camera or a smart phone, carefully designing what is captured can result in photographs that are compelling, creative, and meaningful.

Just like stories, photos have to contain balance and impact, two very powerful ways to engage the viewer’s attention. Designing balanced, impactful images begins in the mind. Photos that are mindfully created are the ones with the most impact, and impact is what makes the difference between a photo that is ignored and photos that draw the eye to them, again and again.

Here are some techniques for composition that a light chaser can practice to get rid of the generic and find the vision within.

Red shirt rally in Bangkok, Thailand.
Working the angle. Bangkok, Thailand 2009.

Working the angles

“Zoom with your feet” is something you might have heard before. With today’s powerful zoom lenses, it is almost too easy to be lulled into letting the camera and lens do the work that the photographer should be doing. Moving around gives you a chance to see differently, and it just may be a different point of view that makes the shot.

Groom and bride, Bali copyright Aloha Lavina.
Groom and bride, Bali.

Using the Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds has to do with imaginary hotspots that would appear if we drew a grid of three by three over the viewfinder or photo. (Some new cameras have this grid built in.) The intersections between the two lines of the horizontal grid and the other two lines of the vertical grid would be the hotspots. The human brain is attracted to these hotspots.

Smoking man in Bali black and white Copyright Aloha Lavina
Underexposing this shot a LOT isolated the subject from the environment and gave it a simple design. Ubud, Bali.

Isolating the subject

Uncluttering an image involves both luck and skill. Zooming in to the subject whether with the zoom lens or walking to a tighter frame will give the photograph a cleaner composition. The less distractions in the photo, the more impact the isolated subject will have.

Prayer flags as leading lines into and out of the photo. Kathmandu, Nepal.
Prayer flags as leading lines into and out of the photo. Kathmandu, Nepal.

Using leading lines

Leading lines are elements in the frame which act like arrows to the main emphasis. In this photo, the prayer flags lead the eye from one corner of the image to the stupa spire. Leading lines make it easy for the viewer’s eye to travel to the point of interest in the photo.

Using the foreground to add interest to the photo. Kusumba, Bali.
Using the foreground to add interest to the photo. Kusumba, Bali.

Using the foreground

Something interesting in the foreground can give a tension to a photo. In this photo, the woman walking beside the boat is just as sharp as the boat. Her apparent motion gives a story to the photo and makes it more dynamic.

Puppet in Bangkok, Thailand with shallow depth of field. Copyright Aloha Lavina.
Shallow depth of field. Bangkok, Thailand.

Using Depth of field

Depth of field is the quality of sharpness from foreground to background in a photo. A large aperture (small f-stop number) gives a photo blurry background or shallow depth of field, while a small aperture (big f-stop number) gives a photo sharper background. In the photo of the Khon mask, the shallow depth of field created patterns in the light that hit the lens, giving it a dreamy quality.

Patterns in the composition. Luang Prabang, Laos. Monks in a row begging for alms. Copyright Aloha Lavina.
Patterns in the composition. Luang Prabang, Laos.

Finding Patterns

Looking for patterns can turn a photo into something special. This photo of a row of monks begging for alms in Luang Prabang, Laos tells a story with the variation in the theme—one monk is anticipating the food a merit maker will offer, and breaks the pattern, and that becomes the interest point of the photo.

Sunrise and Buddha statue with mountains for scale. Thimpu, Bhutan.
Sunrise and Buddha statue with mountains in the background for scale. Thimpu, Bhutan.

Showing Scale

Scale can show the subject in relation to its environment. This Buddha statue on a mountainside in Bhutan is large, and the scale of it is shown through the wide view showing how it sits visible among the giant mountains.

Rickshaw driver in Kathmandu, Nepal Copyright Aloha Lavina
Framed by his rickshaw tent. Kathmandu, Nepal.

Finding natural frames

Looking for natural frames is a great way to add interest and story to photos. This rickshaw driver, obscured by the roof of his rickshaw, tells a story with his eye—within the frame through which he looks daily as he makes his living.

The colors of the market in Can Tho, Vietnam helps to provide the background for the portrait, filling the frame. Copyright Aloha Lavina.
The colors of the market in Can Tho, Vietnam helps to provide the background for the portrait, filling the frame. There’s no ’empty space’ in this image.

Filling the Frame

There’s no use including space if the space does not add to the story. Sometimes, the subject is more than adequate to tell a story. Other times, any other element in the photo would take away from its impact. The woman selling vegetables and her colorful environment fills the frame and creates a kaleidoscopic story of one woman in a market in Vietnam.

Monk folding a robe Bangkok, Thailand. Copyright Aloha Lavina.
Monk folding a robe Bangkok, Thailand.

Using a Vertical Composition

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Shooting Vertical is a decision—the vertical frame has to work for the story in the image. In the photo of the puppeteer, the smoke rising from the incense sticks offered to the artist’s patron spirits add to the image. In the photo of the monk, the robe he is folding is better as part of the framing and so demanded a vertical composition.

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