BY GAIL JOKERST
Joan Miró once said, “You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.”
Although he was best known for his paintings and sculptures, the truth behind them applies equally to photography.
That’s what I learned at OWAA’s 89th annual conference in Billings, Montana, this summer.
But that was just the beginning of the lessons I’d take away. Professional photographers led workshops and sessions for any conference attendees wanting learn the basics or improve their already developed techniques.
While a 600 mm lens certainly is a wise investment if you intend to portray wildlife — especially critters sporting antlers, horns and claws — in a natural setting, it isn’t necessary to take great pictures. Understanding some of the basic tenets of composition will help your pictures remain memorable for all the right reasons. Whether you are capturing scenes at a family reunion with your cell phone, or you’ve invested in the large lens and are watching wildlife, the following techniques can improve your results.
- Seek complementary colors.
When possible, juxtapose color pairs opposite one another on the color wheel. For striking contrasts place red and green, blue and orange, or purple and yellow objects next to or near each other. This makes each color appear more intense and brighter.
- Watch the light.
Take photos with the sun behind you and your shadow pointing in front of you. If the person you are photographing is wearing glasses, tilt the glasses slightly up or down to avoid potential glare from a flash or sunlight. If the person is wearing a hat, use your flash so it fills in shadows cast on the face.
- Find shapes in nature.
Wedges, diagonals, ovals and curves add interest to photos. They engage the viewer to linger and look rather than scroll to the next frame. These shapes evoke a sense of movement and grab attention to follow each line to see where it goes. Triangular wedge imagery is a powerful compositional element as in the “V” formations commonly seen with airborne geese. Diagonal lines lead you into the picture with a sliding motion and create dramatic dynamics. Ovals gently draw the viewer’s eye around the image while C-curves add a graceful element. And S-curves — envision a winding river flowing from the lower corner of the photo and streaming back into the scene — create a feeling of depth and motion.
- Avoid centering your subject.
This is also known as the rule of thirds. When looking through the viewfinder, imagine the scene before you overlaid with a nine-block grid. Rather than placing your main subject in the middle block, put it in one of the four spots where the lines of the grid intersect. This not only adds interest and balance to your composition, but also provides an opportunity to include more of the setting in front of or behind the main subject, which rounds out the scene for the viewer.
- Never place the horizon in the middle.
Following the rule of thirds, horizons are most appealing when located in the upper or lower third of your picture. For a sunset photo where you want to show a widespread splash of color, place the horizon in the lower third. For a lake portrait featuring cloud reflections or submerged rocks, raise the horizon line to the upper third of the frame so the focus remains on the foreground. And wherever you place the horizon, it should be level.
- The odds are better than the evens.
While you might expect the human eye to appreciate perfect symmetry in artwork, the opposite is true. We humans instinctively prefer compositions consisting of three, five, or seven focal points over those with two, four, or six elements. Odd numbers move the eye around the image better than even numbers and add appeal to your compositions.
- Notice your background.
Don’t include anything in the frame that is not needed to deliver your visual message. Extraneous elements distract the viewer. Additionally, make sure nothing in your background, like a branch behind someone’s head, could be interpreted by the human eye as piercing that individual’s head. If you fill your frame with your subject, this is less likely to occur.
- Less can be more.
Sometimes you may want to show part rather than all of an element in your photo. The human eye will compensate for the omission and complete the picture for the viewer so you need not show an entire arm or plate of food. If you “amputate” an arm or leg, do it right below the joint.
- The eyes have it.
Focus tightly on the subject’s eyes so they are clearly visible even if the rest of the head or body is not sharp. Likewise, if you have prominent text in the image, it must be sharp. Out-off-focus lettering and eyes disorient the viewer. If several of your subjects have eyes, the most important ones to keep in focus are those of the main subject. The rest need not comply with this rule.
- Try a Dutch tilt.
This camera shot is useful when you want to add interest or possibly tension to a simple composition. As a general rule, angles create energy. Rather than taking the picture straight up as the eye sees the scene, tilt your camera at an angle so that the shot is composed with vertical lines angling to one side of the frame.To create photos you are proud to show and share obviously requires more than mere luck. It takes concentration plus a passionto lasso the image that has prompted you to pick up your camera, iPad, or cell phone.
To again quote Joan Miro, “The works must be conceived with fire in the soul but executed with clinical coolness.” ♦
— A five-time Excellence in Craft Award winner from West Glacier, Montana, Gail Jokerst has been an OWAA member since 2000. She spends as much time as possible hiking and photographing in nearby Glacier National Park. Visit her website at www.gailjokerst.com.