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Capturing Magic: Finding Inspiration For Captivating Portraits

Capturing Magic: Finding Inspiration For Captivating Portraits

Portraiture has been around for many centuries. Before the digital age and even before the age of film, portraits had been created through other mediums such as paintings and sculptures. A portrait is a treasure that people keep around for a lifetime. A great portrait embodies the essence of the person and tells his or her story without saying a word. How can you make your portraits stand out from the rest? Getting creative. Doing something different. But then, where do you find the inspiration for such types of portraits?

Here I created an artist set to get the look of interrupting an artist at work.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

The idea for a portrait can revolve around many different things, such as an overall theme, maybe a piece of clothing, a location, a prop or the person you are photographing – among many other things. You can generate ideas for a portrait through music, art, books and more. It becomes easier to find inspiration the more you become aware of your surroundings and most importantly, familiar with your subject.

 

What’s the Purpose of the Portrait?

The first thing you should think about when deciding how to tackle capturing a portrait of someone is: what is the purpose of the portrait? A portrait might be a senior portrait for a teenager getting ready to graduate high school in the next year, an individual’s portrait, a couple’s portrait, family portraits or even glamour or boudoir portraits.

A senior portrait.

 

Determining the purpose of the portrait can help guide you toward the characteristics your client might be looking for in their portrait such as a couple’s portrait might want to display their love for one another, a senior portrait might symbolize hope for a bright future and for a boudoir portrait, the idea is “sexy”.

Glamour portrait in my hallway.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Below are several characteristics that you may find can help jog some creativity into your portraiture.

 

Background Choice

In a car. A sixteen-year-old boy just got their first car. He is proud of achieving the passing of his driving test and as a typical sixteen-year-old boy, his car is his most prized possession. This is a good opportunity to suggest shooting a few portraits with him in or standing next to his car.

Outdoors. Shooting a portrait outdoors offers an infinite number of possibilities for backgrounds. Find out your client’s favorite area of town and meet them there for the shoot. If they like the beach, shoot at the beach. Are they avid hikers? Strap on your hiking boots and let them guide you to their favorite spot and photograph them in that environment. If they’re unsure of an outdoor location, it’s up to you to scout out an interesting backdrop.

We shot this portrait outdoors in my neighborhood.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

In a studio setting. Many portrait photographers opt to shoot in a studio so that they can better control the light. You have options for backgrounds in the studio such as seamless paper, canvas, muslin or you can even build a set. Below I used a Savage Mocha seamless paper background along with dramatic lighting.

Background choice in the studio against Savage Mocha seamless paper.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith

 

Work Your Angles

 

Shoot From Above. Savage Floor Drops can make for an interesting background when you shoot your subject from above. Having materials around such as fur and silk also add texture and sheen to the image. In the image below, I also added pillows and lit tea candles as well as a guitar to create an “At Home With the Musician” type of portrait.

Get on a ladder and shoot from above.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

Give your subject space to look into. As a good rule of thumb, when shooting a portrait, especially “landscape-oriented” (horizontally), frame your subject on one side of the image or the other (use The Rule of Thirds as a guide) and make sure that he or she has space to stare into. When you have a subject facing outside the frame closest to him or her, the image generally evokes a bit of tension within the viewer.

Placing your subject on one side of the image and giving them a lot of negative space on one side gives them space to look into.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

Shooting Orientation. I generally ignore the idea that portraits should be “portrait-oriented” (vertical). I generally shoot a portrait both portrait-oriented and landscape oriented (horizontal) for variations.

Vertical orientation.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Remember the best way to shoot landscape-oriented people photos is to give your subject space to look into by placing them on one side of the image or the other with their face facing into the image center.

Horizontal orientation.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Tight Shots

When I shoot, I generally have my subject hold for 2-3 shots and capture the same photo a few different ways, such as full body, ¾ shot, waist up, headshot and a tight shot. Tight shots can be an interesting choice to create a unique portrait. It especially comes in handy if your subject has a receding hairline or a double chin.

Tight shot of a friend.

 

Play With Light & Shadow

 

Mixing Multiple Light Sources. I remember I was once told that mixing different types of lighting could be tricky or disastrous. I did an experiment once in outdoor shade next to a building doorway where there was a combination of ambient daylight, my speedlight and a tungsten bulb in the doorway and came up with the portrait below. Don’t ever be afraid to experiment and create things someone else told you that you couldn’t.

Here I blended ambient light, the tungsten bulb light in the doorway to the right and my speedlight to get this shot.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Use Shadows. Whether it’s shadows created from mini-blinds indoors or from trees outdoors, or even shadows you create with studio lighting, shadows can transform such a humdrum image into something very extraordinary.

I used a tree to break up harsh lighting and got some interesting shadow patterns.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

Create Silhouettes. A portrait doesn’t necessarily need to capture all the details of a subject. Sometimes just a silhouette outline of your subject can make for a creative portrait too.

Silhouettes can make for interesting portraits.

 

Go High-Key or Low-Key. High key portraits evoke a feeling of lightness, innocence and purity. The key to creating a high key portrait is a lot of light, while still managing to maintain a true black point.

A high key portrait always has a light and pure feel to it.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Low-key portraits are a good choice for music and athletic portraits or any type of portrait where you want to create a lot of drama as the images are very dark and the light is very focused on a particular part of a subject such as their face, hands or maybe even just a baby’s feet. In the image below I added a rim light to create a separation between my subject and the background to add dimension.

Low-key lighting can add drama.

Model: Baron Jackson

 

Use window light whenever possible. Many photographers are a fan of natural light and prefer daylight studios to just any ole studio. There’s just a quality of softness about light that comes through a window, which can serve as a little bit of a diffuser itself. Window light can be recreated artificially, but there’s just something striking about natural window light.

Window light makes for a beautiful dramatic portrait.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

Add Movement

 

Spin, Spin, Spin. I recently wrote an article on getting more creative with your self-portraits and experimented with spinning and shooting with a slow shutter. I managed to create the image below on the second try. Here you can see my face in profile and full face. Just a unique “spin” to a portrait.

A slow shutter offers a nice motion shot.

 

Blowing confetti/glitter. You’ve see the images. A girl with a party hat (or not) blowing confetti toward the camera lens. It’s a nice shot to try to capture for a birthday portrait, but it does take practice and a tripod to capture the confetti in the air prior to its descent.

Sports portraits. You might be hired to shoot some portraits during a child’s sports game. Anticipation of movement is the key to a sports portrait – that and a fast shutter speed. After the game you can slow down and capture images of the athlete in his or soiled uniform holding the football, catcher’s mitt, baseball bat, or whatnot. It provides much more character than a stark, sterile, clean uniform.

Dancing portraits. A photographer can capture beautiful portraits of ballet dancers who are  quick, agile and can hold a pose for a pretty long time. I actually added movement into the image below by shooting the dancer through a piece of Plexiglas wrapped in Saran wrap.

I shot through saran wrap on Plexiglas here to create a sense of movement.

Model/dancer: Shoko Fujita

 

Reflections

A different way to approach shooting a subject is through the use of a mirror. If you can find a room with a full length mirror on one side, this can make for a stunning image – especially the more dramatic the wardrobe they are wearing. No mirror wall? A stand-up mirror can also work to capture a person in a just little bit of a different way than just a “smile and say cheese” portrait.

Use of a mirror for this portrait.

Model: Colleen Rose Careri

 

Composites & Double Exposure

 

Composites. A composite, if done right, can add a new dimension to a portrait. I’m not an expert with Adobe Photoshop, nor do I have the patience to spend hours and hours to do outrageously amazing composites, but taking your subject and placing them on a different background can sometimes make the image more interesting.

A composite created from a studio shot on white seamless and an image borrowed from Google.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

Double Exposure Images. A double exposure image is another process that can take a little bit of time but can fun and can literally share your subject with something they like. I’m a huge fan of sunflowers so we created the double exposure of me in a sunflower field. The sun just happened to be in a perfect spot to generate an even deeper meaning to the portrait.

This is a double exposure self-portrait amongst my favorite flower.

 

Introduce Props

 

Flowers and foliage. Whether you add flowers to your client’s hair or put flowers in their hands (which can also help to relax your subject by giving them something to do with their hands…!), adding a client’s favorite flower to their portrait not only adds an additional piece of beauty into the image but it also adds yet another hint to the viewer as to the subject’s likes and preferences. Beyond the example below, the self-portrait above also showcases this.

Giving my subject flowers gave her something to do with her hands too.

Model: Larissa Byrd

 

Food. Yes food… but make it fun food! A portrait of a child blowing out candles on a birthday cake makes a nice sentiment. Combining a lollipop or even a piece of fruit into a portrait can make the portrait a little more fun and interesting. If your subject is holding the object, even better! Giving them something to do with their hands helps to relax them a little in front of the lens as it helps take their attention of the camera and places it on the object they are holding.

Add a lollipop for a twist to the semi-monochromatic image.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

Materials and Lace. Exaggeration is okay not only in fashion, but portraiture too. In the image below I draped a piece of beautiful jade lace over my client’s hair and gave her a bouquet of black calla lilies to create a little bit of a darker portrait. Adding various materials or lace to a portrait set whether it’s on your subject or they are laying on it, adds a nice touch to the final result.

Here the props were the lace made into a veil and the black calla lillies.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

Incorporate Accessories

 

Hats. Hats can be a fun addition to a portrait depending on what they are wearing and your subject’s personality.

I added a cowgirl hat to complete this ensemble.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

Scarves. In addition, a scarf can also be a nice addition to a subject’s look in a portrait. In the image below, my subject has an Eastern European background and actually asked me if we could incorporate a scarf into some of her portraits.

Because of her ethnic background, the scarf helps lend to her story.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

Add Embellishments to Makeup

 

Feathers. While feathers might be a little overboard, they can make for a fun and dramatic portrait if you have a great makeup artist on hand. In the image below, we went with a beautiful peacock theme.

We created a beautiful peacock theme for this shot.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Jewels. Adding jewels to makeup, especially around the eyes, can really bring out the feature they are near. The colors and sparkle also really stand out.

Adding jewels to her eyes draws your attention to the most important part of the portrait – the windows to the soul.

Model: Lizbeth Sawyers

 

Various Facial Expressions & Emotions

Rather than a typical, “say cheese” portrait, you may be able to evoke several different emotions in your client and capture them. Teenagers are notorious for being a bit reserved when it comes to professional portraits when it’s not their idea and the parents are the ones demanding them. A serious expression is quite fine though! Try to conjure up different expressions from your client. A sly or coy smile here, a bright cheery smile there, a pensive and thoughtful expression there – it all works!

It’s ok to capture a normal beautiful portrait.

Model: Chelsea Jackson

 

If your client is a bit of a jokester, even capturing capturing silly facial expressions really captures their essence and shows the viewer their personality.

Sometimes different facial expressions can show a fun side of someone in a portrait.

Model: Chelsea Jackson

 

Shoot Candids Between the Posed Shots

Of course, capturing candid shots in between the posed shots can also be a huge bonus as you’re capturing unposed, true, expressions of your client when they are being themselves and are caught off-guard. I managed to capture this candid portrait below during a pause between poses. I thought it was a bit calm and serene (almost meditative) and the client loved it.

I caught this shot between poses.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

A Last Word About Gaining Creative Insight…

Finding inspiration and coming up with creative ideas for captivating portraits can be very easy. The more aware you are of your surroundings, the more you will realize that the possibilities for ideas are endless. One of the great things I’ve learned over the past few years that has helped my creativity is self-portraits. You learn a lot not only about being in front of the lens, but how to tell your own story.

Self-Portrait.

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
The Art of Portraiture Part 1: Composition, Depth of Field & Background

The Art of Portraiture Part 1: Composition, Depth of Field & Background

Creating a portrait of a person isn’t always an easy task. A portrait should represent its subject, his or her character, likes and dislikes, feelings, mood and more. I love portraiture. I love to capture people with their raw, naked emotion and to show my subject an image of their true self.

An outdoor portrait of a model/actress – with a lucky tailwind to boot!

Model/Actress: Valery Lessard

 

They are always moved in what they see, when showing them the reflection of what I captured of who they are. I also like to manipulate emotions and get my subject to step outside of their comfort zones such as in the image below.

Good boy turned bad.

Model: Baron Jackson

 

It was really tough to get my subject above to play a bad boy as he was a sweet kid with a crazy positive attitude, but he was thrilled to see a different side of him that I was able to bring out with a little coaxing.

 

COMPOSITION

Composition can make or break an image. There are many techniques to gaining a great composition in portraiture. The first, most commonly known guideline is the Rule of Thirds.

 

Rule of Thirds

We’ve all heard of it: The Rule of Thirds. The term “rule”, though, sounds like there is no room for deviation. As an educator, I prefer to think of it as more like “guideline” for composition as it then becomes much less dreadful and a little more beneficial.  The Rule of Thirds is taking a frame and dividing it equally into three sections horizontally and equally into three sections vertically using two lines each resulting in nine equal-sized boxes (imagine a tic-tac-toe box…) Composing your frame so that your focus point of your subject falls on one or more of the four intersecting points, tends to make an image more naturally appealing for a viewer to engage.

The subject’s eye falls on one of the four intersecting points.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

While you may not always get your subject perfectly on one of the four intersecting points, aligning your subject along any one of those four lines still makes for a more balanced image.

 

Alter Perspectives and Angles

I once had a mentor mention that if you want your images to be better than 80% of the rest of the images out there in the world, change your perspective! This means, get down low and shoot upward…

Self-portrait shot from below.

 

Or get up high and shoot downward…

Self-portrait shot from above.

 

Use Negative Space

The use of negative space can also be appealing when shooting a portrait. I’ve always been a huge fan of shooting my portraits and headshots horizontally when most people shoot them portrait-oriented… I never knew why it was more appealing to me until I realized that I was turned on by the use of negative space, which is also a big turn-on of famous photographer, Peter Hurley.

The use of negative space.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Framing Your Subject

You can also make your portraits more interesting by framing your subject, whether it is by using the nook of a tree, an arch of a doorway or even some faux leaves, as I have done in the image below.

Framing my subject’s face using vines.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Orientation

Sometimes the orientation of an image can make all the difference. Once upon a time, a very wise mentor once taught me, “What’s the first thing you do after you take a picture…? You turn the camera 90 degrees.” Basically meaning, if you take a landscape-oriented image to turn the camera and take the same image portrait-oriented directly after or vice-versa.

Here my model is tall and I captured much more of the scene in the image portrait-oriented.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

This tip works well with ANY type of photograph that you capture as you may find after returning to your computer or laptop to process your images that an image worked better vertically than horizontally or vice-versa..

In this image, I was able to crop in closer to focus more on the model and her expression than on the scene.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

DEPTH OF FIELD

 

Shallow Depth of Field

  • Move Closer. The closer you are to your subject when you shoot, the shallower the depth of field. If you want more of the image to be in focus, you’ll want to put more distance between you and the subject.

I got in close as at 70mm I could using a 70-200mm lens.

Model: Katie Buell

 

  • Large Aperture. There’s a reason for the attraction to a lens that has a large aperture (low number).  A larger aperture will allow for a shallower depth of field whereas a smaller aperture will put more into focus. I used an aperture of F/2 on the image below.

I used an aperture of F/2 here.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

BACKGROUND

A background can make or break your image. Put your subject in front of a super busy scene and it takes the focus off of your subject – not to mention, it can sometimes create mergers. Your background should not have a bunch of distractions and should help focus attention on your subject. Other factors of a good background are that it helps give context to your subject and the scene and it can aid in telling a story in your image without saying a word.

 

Give Context

A good background will help give context and meaning to a portrait. A perfect example of what I mean by context is an environmental portrait. Photographing someone in their natural environment adds context and impact to an image.

The subject appears to be taking a break from working for an environmental portrait.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Tells a Story

An interesting portrait will also tell a story without a companion writer having to write a word. I love creating sets that tell stories, such as in the image below. I wanted to create the feel of capturing an artist in the midst of a high note as she was singing, so I lent my microphone, microphone stand, headphones and a pop filter for the set and I put her on a bright blue background for impact. Your eye is instantly attracted to the bold blue color and then the subject dressed in a contrasting bright white.

The addition of props and a bold background lend to the interest of this image.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

General Background Choices

 

  • Outdoor/Interior Choices. An indoor or outdoor location background can be a wonderful choice and can give context to editorial, fashion and environmental portrait work, however, sometimes the background can be a bit busy and distracting causing the need for some type of faux background.

An outdoor background in the busy Times Square area.

Model: Lisette Melendez

 

  • Seamless Paper. If you are looking a clean, crisp and simple background, seamless is definitely the way to go. Savage seamless paper alone comes in around 69 colors to choose from, making it an optimal choice if you are looking for a specific color. You can buy a 9-foot wide, 12-yard roll of Savage Pure White Seamless Paper for around $45.00 at Adorama.

Savage Smoke Gray seamless paper

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

My Auto Poles with Interfit Chain System for Seamless Paper

 

Seamless paper requires a few additional pieces for support than other backgrounds and these different pieces can be pricey unless you put your kit together yourself like I did. My kit consists of two (2) Manfrotto Auto Poles at $114.99 each, an Interfit Wall Bracket Kit at $79.25 which you can attach to your wall or to a couple of Auto Poles and a four (4) of Manfrotto 035 Super Clamps w/o Studs at $26.88 each.

Manfrotto Auto Pole

Image Courtesy of Adorama website.

 

Interfit Wall Bracket Kit

Image courtesy of Adorama website.

 

My Manfrotto 035 Super Clamps

 

  • Vinyl.  Another classic and preferred choice for photographers is vinyl. It gets a great reputation because it hangs flat whereas muslin tends to wrinkle easily and seamless tends to crinkle and get dirty more easily. Vinyl is easy to clean and takes up very little space to store as it can be stored straight up and down in a corner.

My versatile 6-foot roll of vinyl -black on one side and white on the other.

 

  • Portable. Portable backgrounds can be a great choice as they are versatile, convenient due to collapsibility and inexpensive. You can use them in the studio or take them with you on location. A 6-foot portable background can fold up into a circle as small as 24 inches. They typically have a border so may not be a great choice for a full-length shot, but they work perfectly for headshots, portraits and three-quarter body shots.

Portable Collapsible Background

 

The Savage Black & White 60”x72” Collapsible Background shown above is available at Adorama for $127.50.

 

  • Muslin. Muslin can be an excellent choice to shoot with since it’s not reflective at all, folds as small as you need and can be hung from a portable background support and costs a fraction of some of the other choices. This all-cotton option is a classic choice for these reasons. Imagine, before cameras, how the old masters’ portrait paintings sometimes had a drape of material in the background. They knew it worked then. We know it works now.

Collaged image by Dawn M. Wayand – original image pieces courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

  • Canvas. Canvas backdrops come in a variety of sizes, colors and designs. They are a good choice because they can be reused over and over again but they can also be a bit heavy to set up. You can use a canvas backdrop multiple times without your image looking the same by changing up your foreground elements and your subject’s wardrobe and accessories. Canvas backdrops, however, can be one of the most expensive choices of all of the choices I’ve listed but can be one of the most creative as well. A very small sample of canvas backdrops available at Adorama below include (clockwise from top left): Arctic Blue, Black, Seville and Classic Rembrandt.

Collaged image by Dawn M. Wayand – original image pieces courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

  • Floordrops. Floor drops are often used together with back drops to recreate a scene. They typically come in designs such as wood floors, brick walls, metal panels or tile as shown below. A rubber floor drop also makes for a great backdrop when going for a more edgy feel to an image. It’s simple enough to still keep the focus on your subject. A small sample of floor drops below include (clockwise from top-left): Industrial Grunge, Mosaic Pavers, Worn Planks and Red Brick.

Collaged image by Dawn M. Wayand – original image pieces courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

  • Other Creative Backgrounds. I’m all for thinking outside the box and making my backgrounds as interesting as possible. Some other great creative choices for backgrounds include materials such as wallpaper, sequin fabric and designer art paper which makes for a great headshot background that you can get at your local art store for between $4-10 each piece (as shown below), among numerous other options. Put your creative thinking cap on and figure out some other interesting backgrounds that might work for you.

Just a few of the creative art papers I’ve collected over time for headshot opportunities.

 

Here I used a black crocodile art paper as a background to add a little texture to this beauty shot.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

COMPOSITION AND BACKGROUND CAN BE EVERYTHING…

As you can see, how you compose your image can make all the difference between a humdrum photo and a much more stunning portrait. It’s also important to choose your background wisely. There are so many options out there. If you choose an outdoor or interior background, be sure that your subject IS the subject of the image and that the background doesn’t take the show. Composition, depth of field and background are just a few elements to the Art of Portraiture. Stay tuned for the next article, The Art of Portraiture: Light.

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Creativity & Awareness: Learning to See Before the Capture

Creativity & Awareness: Learning to See Before the Capture

“You don’t take a photograph – you make it”   – Ansel Adams

 

Seeing is the very essence of photography as much so as the light that is needed for a photograph to exist. It’s a consistent and continuous mental activity that we do everyday as we go to school, go to work, go out for a night on the town, traveling and so forth.


While this image has been digitally enhanced, there are several elements of composition here lending to an interesting image.

The Adirondacks, Upstate New York

 

Remember when you were younger, the game of “Punch Bug” that you might have played with a friend or family member(s) where you called out “punch bug” and the color, whenever you saw a Volkswagen Beetle? You then begin to notice Beetles a lot more often after making it a practice to find them in the game. Perhaps you buy a new car and it’s not until you own the drive the car that you notice how many other people are on the road drive the same type of car. It’s only when you practice looking for something or when you are involved in or with a certain thing that you start to see it everywhere when you never really noticed that thing before. This is a form of “awareness” as you become more aware of something because you’ve been exposed to it in some way.

When you become more aware of your surroundings, the more photographic opportunities will arise for you. Below are various elements and techniques to help you train your eye to create more interesting images.

 

THE ART OF COMPOSITION

 

Lines

I never really formally studied art until I was 33 years old, living in St. Petersburg and attending Eckerd College after having already acquired a bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies. I decided to major in Visual Arts and in the very first class I took, I spent the entire semester working with lines. The first exercise I had was to use sharpie only and create faces using a certain number of straight and curved lines.

By week 5, the faces became more character-like as I was released more and more from line restrictions.

 

As the semester progressed, the exercises built upon the exercise from before until I had gone from being a realistic artist to an abstract artist. It was a terrific exercise to creativity. While that was drawing and painting, photographing has a use for lines as well in the form of the S-Curve, leading lines and patterns.

 

The S-Curve

Some of you may somehow find an image of a winding road through a scene to be very interesting to look at and there is a pretty good reason for this. It’s generally called an S-Curve and it helps to take a viewer’s eyes throughout an image from bottom to top and left to right (and vice-versa).

The S-Curve of the flowerbed here takes your eyes from the bottom of the image to the top.

Toronto, Canada

 

Leading Lines

Leading lines help to connect the foreground to the background of an image and they also create a sense of depth and dimension, bringing the viewer into the image. They give a sense of an infinite beyond. Some good examples of a leading lines are straight roadways and paths or even a river or creek.

The leading line of the path here creates a sense of infinite distance.

Madrid, Spain

The little creek connects the foreground to the background here.

Near Mont Tremblant, Canada

 

Patterns

Patterns give way to be an interesting element to photograph. Symmetry and repetitive things in an image are good examples of types of patterns to try to capture. In the image below, not only is there a sort of C-Curve in this image taking the viewers eyes from one side to the other, but there is a repetition of shadows, windows and arches that pulls attention into the image.

Also a good example of a leading line, there’s several repetitive aspects in this image.

Sevilla, Spain

 

Complementary Colors for a Pop Factor

If you remember the color wheel in grade school and learning about primary, secondary and tertiary colors as well as complimentary colors. Balance and harmony of an image not to mention a nice pop can be created using color contrast, which is why the use of complementary colors can be effective in composition.

 

The use of red and green complementary colors.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

 

Orange and blue…

The use of orange and blue complementary colors.

Munich, Germany

 

and purple and yellow…

The use of purple and yellow complementary colors.

New York Botanical Gardens Annual Orchid Show

 

Texture

Another element of composition that makes for an interesting capture is the element of texture. Photographing fur, wool or even in the case below, the macro capture of a flower petal conveying the feeling of a velvet-like touch appeals to a viewer’s sense of touch.

The detail conveys a velvet-like feel of the petal stimulating a viewer’s sense of touch.

New York Botanical Gardens Annual Orchid Show

 

Negative Space

Negative space is the area surrounding your main subject with your main subject known as “positive space”. Negative space is a natural relief for a viewer’s eyes to rest and prevents your image from appearing too cluttered.

I like using negative space in my headshots and portraits (and here, a self-portrait…)

 

Negative space also places more emphasis and bring the viewer’s attention more clearly to the main subject of your image.


The negative space of the sky, though textured, brings the viewers attention to the main subject, this statue.

Iwo Jima Monument, Arlington, Virginia

 

Close Crop

The opposite of negative space really is cropping in close, used mainly to eliminate distractions around a main subject, but also to capture detail and/or for artistic purposes. It also works well when your subject is stuck in broad daylight.

Capturing a tight crop of a tiger in harsh daylight works.

Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida

 

Motion

An interesting way of grabbing a viewer’s attention is through a capture of motion. In the image below I focused on the center guitarist’s face, allowing the movement to show throughout the rest of the image, which brings the image to life.

Amongst the crowd watching a mariachi band I capture motion to bring my image to life.

Madrid, Spain

 

Light & Shadows

Light and shadows are what make up photography, after all, the word photography literally means “to draw with light”. Light and shadows can create patterns on surfaces, which we’ve already determined is appeasing to the viewer’s eye. It can also create lightest and darkest areas of an image whereas the lightest part of an image generally will attract a viewer’s eye before anything else.

Here we not only have repetition with the columns, but the

light and shadows cast patterns on the wall and ground.

Sevilla, Spain

 

As you can see here, the brightest part of this image draws your eye inward first

Central Park, New York

 

RULE OF THIRDS AND POINTS OF IMPACT

Almost all of us has heard of the Rule of Thirds. Using an off-center composition has been known to be more appeasing to the viewer’s eye. This composition also tends to appears more natural when taking in an image rather than an image with a subject dead center.

The boat falls on the top left intersecting point of the grid.

Niagara Falls, Canada

 

The Rule of Thirds is when you divide your frame into a grid of three equal rows and three equal columns = nine equal sections total with the object being to place your main subject on one of the four guidelines, preferably at one of the four intersection points.

 

FRAMING

Another useful tool in creating a more creative capture is the use of framing your your subject. You can do this using a crook in the arm of a tree, a windowpane an arch of a doorway and so on and so forth – you get the picture. Framing your subject helps to bring focus on your subject, much like literally putting your image in a photo frame.

I used the curving arm of a tree to frame the serene lake with its beaming sunlight cast upon it.

Near the Adirondacks in Upstate New York at Fall

 

Here I used an arch in the foreground to frame the gentleman relaxing on the stone wall in the background.

Malaga, Spain

 

PERSPECTIVES AND ANGLES

Someone once taught me, “If you want to make your photography better than 80% of other photography out there in the world, change your perspective.” This was probably some of the best advice I had ever heard. If you just stand there, put the camera to your eye and take the image, anyone can do that and your images may appear to be more snapshot-like. We don’t want just snapshots – we want interesting and captivating images!

I kneeled down to capture the tulips at a level of their own height.

Battery Park City in the Spring.

 

Move about a scene and try different levels: get up on the wall or bench and shoot down. Lie on the ground and shoot your subject from below (a “bug’s eye view”). Or get at the subject’s level for a more realistic impact, which works especially well for photographing animals and children.


Shooting from above.

Madrid, Spain

 

I entitled the image above, “I Am Here” as the pants and shoes are dusty and worn. Most people know that I am a traveller and this was my expression of my journeys. While you can lay down and shoot upward, in the image below, I placed my camera lens up on the ground and shot the tulips from a bug’s eye view.

Shooting from below.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden

 

CREATIVE LENS USE

Sometimes you can get more creative with your images just by lens choice. A wide angle or fisheye lens is a fun lens to capture a little bit of distortion in your images, giving them a bit more powerful grip on the viewer. In the image below I had borrowed a Canon 7D Mark II Camera used a Canon EF8-15mm F/4L Fisheye Zoom Lens to capture the children running through the Fall leaves.

Timing and a fun lens made this image a bit more dynamic.

Storm King Art Center, Upstate New York

 

TIMING

Other times it can come down to the perfect moment. Sometimes life just happens before you and you get lucky enough to pull your camera to your face, set your settings and capture the moment before it disappears forever. There is also the trick of anticipating the moment. Oftentimes this works well with photographing sports as well as animals. I once sat at the window of a polar bear exhibit at a zoo for almost an hour studying the swimming pattern of the polar bear – trying to figure out how I was not only going to capture the image, but to do so in a way getting the image as sharp as possible and without glare. The image didn’t turn out half bad minus the abundance of breathing bubbles, but there is certainly something to be said about predicting the actions of your subject.

As I walked past this alleyway, I saw this duo and rushed quickly to take the shot as knew it was a fleeting moment.

Malaga, Spain

 

Whether it’s your lucky moment, like for me in the image above, or if you sit perched and waiting for the perfect moment to happen, such as what I did in the image below – timing can be everything to creating a beautiful image.

For this image I actually sat and waited for someone to walk through

the archway and found this to be an authentic shot of daily life in Sevilla.

Sevilla, Spain

 

EXERCISES TO HELP TRAIN THE EYE

There are many ways to develop a better awareness of photographic opportunities around you using the composition elements and techniques above as guidance for end results. A few starter exercises could be:

  1. Study the works of the Masters and how they used composition, color, light, etc. for inspiration in your own photographs.
  2. Lock yourself in a room and commit to taking 100-150 photos of various things in a room. You will definitely find that you are looking at something a different way for the first time after this exercise.
  3. Commit to photographing only objects of one color or monochromatic only.

 

There are many books with 365 Projects that can also be a great tool to help you train your eye, but if nothing else, the more you get out and shoot, the more practice you’ll have in finding creative ways to shoot even the most ordinary of an object.

 

LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP!

You’ve probably been told to get it right in camera in the first place and quit thinking about post-production. Yes, post-production can enhance an image and can sometimes also create a whole new image depending on your skill but the bottom line is that you need to have a strong image to begin with, so practicing with the goal of a creative capture in camera is the best way to do just that.

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments