Photography is not just about taking a picture of your subject, but about capturing a moment in time that expresses the essence of that moment. There could be multiple photographers all taking photos of the same event and each capture and express a different aspect of that event. Learning how to hone down the nuances of photography by using subtle tools to achieve a specific style and express more than what meets the eye.
Taking the time to understand how to utilize a space is worth the investment. As the photographer, your relationship to the subject and the environment is key to creating the right composition for your photograph. The key questions to answer are; what is the space you have to photograph in? Is it an open space? Is it a tight space? What objects are around that you want to include or take out? Answering these questions will help you assess and identify what you have to work with in order to successfully create the composition of a photo.
In example A, the subject is in a bamboo forest. When I was in this space assessing how I wanted to place the subject I searched for elements that would allow me to frame him within the clutter of the forest. I chose the open path because it was the natural area that allowed the subject stand out, as well as framed the leaves and branches around the subject to give the picture more texture in the foreground.
In Example B, the subject is on an open empty beach or at least appears to empty. This beach was actually very crowded, but I had to position my self-downward from the subject so I was looking up and blocking the people in the background with the sand. Also, using the negative space of the sky allows the subject to stand out and be the focus of the frame.
The shape is very similar to space and is dependent on space. Looking at what shapes are in your space allow you to create a specific mood and express emotion.
In example C, it is just an open area of the forest, but I have used the curves of the tree’s branches to frame the composition and give it an arch shape. The arch shape of the framing gives the same feeling as being in a cathedral and creates a level grandness to the picture.
Example D shows the subjects within a tight space with a whole variety of shapes that give it texture and motion. Using the doorway I used the natural square shape to make the subject feel boxed in. If I had positioned myself inside the same space as the subject the picture would have felt more open and not express the same emotion.
Color is a unique tool that you have the ability to both adjust the settings of your camera and through what color your subject is and what colors are in the environment. Color is the key element to creating the mood of the photograph. There are psychological associations that people naturally have in which evokes a universal tone of emotion, this knowledge will be an extra effect to give your photo a unique style.
Example E is a photo of the Florence skyline at sunset. The natural colors of the sunset are pink and purple, which paints the buildings with a light pink and creates a romantic setting. When I was taking this picture I increased the color temperature setting in order to make the colors of the sunset more full and prominent. If the color temperature had been at a lower setting it would have created a pale and bleak look to the photograph creating a mood of dreariness and loneliness. The higher temperatures in the photo naturally evokes a sense warmth and romance.
Color is also key to creating contrast within a shot in order to focus to a subject. In Example F the subject is wearing a red shirt and holding a red umbrella, which is drastically different from sandy cream background of the beach, this contrast gives the viewer an automatic direction to focus their eyes on to help guide their focus on the picture. Being intentional about the nuances of the colors will guide the mood and attention of your audience.
Light is what gives the subject shape and is another tool to give the picture contrast in order to guide your audience’s eye. Light is for your picture, what a chisel is for a statue; where you place the light in respect to your subjects will give the picture a sense of movement. Like with color, the element of contrast helps bring attention to the area of the picture and give the picture depth.
Example G is great for showing contrast, depth, and shape that lights can provide a picture. When first looking at the photo the eye is drawn to the center where you see the silhouette of the subject in the doorway, this makes the silhouette the focal point of the picture. The eye then goes from the doorway up to the arched ceiling; the light hits the ceiling showing the shape of the curved ceiling. The light coming in through the left door gives the picture another layer to its depth in contrast with the dark wall in the foreground and silhouette in the background. The light in this picture gives it movement for the eye to explore the picture.
In order to bring your picture to life, there should be a sense of movement. Some of the greatest photography is candid photography. A candid photo captures the natural movement of the subject at the point that captures the essence of that movement.
Example H shows the newly married couple walking down the road, you see the motion of their feet, the groom’s hand on his hat making an adjustment, and the bride looking forward toward where they are walking. Even though this is a still framed picture, you can sense the motion of the subjects based on where their body is placed. With this, you are able to capture the moment in a way that brings a dynamic life to the photo.
The goal of photography should be to express ideas, expose beauty, and evoke emotions to your audience. These subtle tools make a huge difference to styling your photographs and expressing deeper meanings beyond just taking a photo. Taking the time to understand each tool in this article will enable you to craft your picture and develop your style.