Ok, you’ve mastered the rule of thirds and know all about leading lines, framing and a dozen other of the so called rules of composition and you’re careful to incorporate them in your photographs.
There are other things you can do to bring your photography to a higher level. More indistinct than specific rules of composition but despite their subtlety, when done correctly, will have a tremendous impact on your photography.
We’ll discuss three things that will help bring your photography to the next level.
Of course color is all around us. Because of that, we tend to take it for granted and not recognize how the subtlety of color can enhance our photographs.
Just like a good writer builds tension and conflict with their prose, a good photographer can do the same with light and with that light comes color.
On a standard color wheel, complementary colors are on opposite sides. Blue is opposite orange, red is opposite green, purple is opposite yellow and so on. Often these are called conflicting colors or opposing colors.
Using conflicting colors in your photography can add tension and that will make the photograph more interesting.
Go to 500px.com and examine some of the colorful photographs that you’re drawn too. Chances are you’ll see conflicting colors — a blue sea with an orange sunset. A model wearing a purple dress holding a yellow flower. A pasture of green with red flowers.
Often one color will dominate and there will be just be a touch of the complement. This is usually desired because if displayed in equal quantities, the opposing colors can overwhelm one’s senses.
In the picture below the blue water is offset by the small amount of orange in the sky. Without the orange this picture wouldn’t have been as interesting. Too much orange would have made the picture unbalanced and not as appealing.
When possible incorporate complementary colors to give your photographs that added punch!
Hard vs Soft
Just like color can add conflict and interest, opposing textures will do the same.
Some of my favorite landscapes are seascapes — the soft water flowing around a hard rocky point with soft clouds in the sky. There the conflict is obvious but you can incorporate it in your photography in other situations.
There’s a famous shot of Pro Football player Demarcus Ware holding his infant daughter. You can see it here
Demarcus is big, strong and muscular. The baby is little, soft and vulnerable. The contrast makes the picture outstanding.
In the picture below the hard, rough texture of the metal bell is offset by the soft sky and blurred flight of the geese.
Hard versus Soft
Train your photographic eye to recognize it and exploit it. Also look for rough versus smooth, light versus dark, and small versus large.
Tell A Story
Photojournalist try to tell a story with every shot and usually, the more obvious they make it, the better.
In my opinion, the next obvious situation is when a wedding photographer illustrates, through their images, the love between the bride and groom. The capture of their eyes upon one another or perhaps a contemplative thought.
Those two situations are rather obvious and if you aspire to be a photojournalist or a wedding photographer, you should try to tell a story with your pictures at all times but even if you don’t have plans to work in those fields, you can do it in more subtle ways that will add to a photograph and make it extra special.
In the shot below I was shooting the rapids of the Niagara River above Niagara Falls. I felt the water and mist were interesting and the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario in the distance was cool. I had my son stand there to add some scale to the image but still, the shot was just a shot — nothing special.
In post, I thought a HUGE moon would be cool and as you can see, I added the moon. The shot suddenly became more interesting to me but, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure why I liked it.
I posted it online on 500px.com and it received some nice comments and to this day, is one of my more popular images.
As I mentioned, initially I really didn’t know why, but I knew I liked it and many other’s seemed to like it too. Reading the comments, I came to realize why it was so popular:
”Evokes a lonely and tumultuous feeling, like being at a pinnacle point in a long journey. Love it!”
“I like this! It leads you into a story of a younger imagination. Every image blends seamlessly and seems, somehow, to belong. Even the upset of the spray in the distance. Good job +++ “
“amazing combination of elements here – thought provoking stuff +V”
My picture told a story. It was vague — perhaps like the lyrics of a song can be vague but enough elements were there so that someone observing it can see a story in it. That story may be different to different people but that made it all the better.
Another interesting point is that I had no idea what story I was telling. I just knew I liked certain elements and how they fit together – the rapids, the mist, my son, the city and the moon. Often when you compose an image you just have to go with your gut instinct. Every now and then, it just works.