Foundations: Leaving Space Around Your Subject

While filling the frame with your subject can lead to a high impact portrait – particularly if the final image will be used at a small scale – using this technique all the time leads to a selection of images that are repetitive. As with many of the rules of composition, when your images are viewed as a set, variety becomes key. Allowing space around your subject also enables you to include background or environmental details. Sometimes you may want …

Foundations: Visual Balance

Every element in a photograph has a ‘visual weight’ attached to it, and a harmonious composition is one in which these elements are arranged in a way that seems to achieve visual balance overall. Elements that are high contrast, large, dark in colour, placed on one of the key sections of the frame according to the Rule of Thirds or Golden Ratio, or that we know are genuinely heavy, have increased visual weight compared to those that are low contrast, …

Foundations: Angle and Viewpoint

Positioning your subject in a location is only one part of the puzzle – even in a studio environment, you need to consider where you will be positioned, as the photographer, and whether you will be holding the camera level or angled towards your subject. Even the choice of whether you stand or crouch can have a huge impact on the composition and connotations of the final shot. If you always take every photograph at the same angle, you will …

Foundations: The Golden Ratio

Like the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Ratio is a guideline for positioning elements of the image within naturally powerful areas of the frame. It is an ancient design principle which states that the ratio of 1:1.618 is the most visually pleasing. This particular ratio has been found to appear repeatedly in nature (such as in the shape of a snail’s shell) and is one that humans are drawn to. It can be used to divide the image frame into …

Foundations: The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds provides a guide as to the most impactful place within the frame to place key elements. Imagine two horizontal lines that split the image into thirds, crossed by two vertical, equidistant lines that split the image into thirds the other way. Placing an image component along with one of these lines or – even more powerfully – on one of the four intersections where the lines meet – contributes to a strong composition.   For close-up …

Foundations: Cropping

A crop is the removal of unwanted elements from the frame in order to improve the composition or to increase the focus on other elements. For example, a close-up shot involves a conscious decision to exclude the rest of the subject’s body, in order to focus on their eyes, for example. Conversely, you may want to show the full body of your subject by not cropping, and perhaps show some of their environment, too. Tightly cropped portraits tend to have …

Foundations: Image Formats

The vast majority of cameras provide a set, rectangular image frame. However, photo editing software enables you to access other formats too, including square and panoramic shapes or combinations of images in montages. Different formats lend themselves to different scenes and compositions – practice capturing the same portrait using a range of different formats to see which you prefer and why. Over time, you will soon become able to judge which format will work best before even lifting the camera …

Foundations: Using Studio Flash

Natural light is variable and impossible to control, whereas artificial light provides a consistent and adjustable light source. You don’t have to wait for the right time of day, or for the weather to clear, if you have studio flash or flash guns. Learning to use studio lighting is also great training for on location shooting – visualise where you would place the lights in a studio and find ways to replicate that with whatever light you have available to …

Foundations: On-Camera Flash vs Flash Guns

Entry- and enthusiast-level DSLRs usually include an on-camera flash which pops up on demand or when using auto mode and shooting in low light conditions. Out of necessity, the flash is physically positioned only a few centimetres away from the lens, which causes a few problems, including ‘red eye’ and harsh, flat lighting. The flash emitted typically overpowers the ambient light, resulting in your subject looking like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights. In addition, any reflective surfaces in …

Foundations: Working With Natural Light

Working With Natural Light Natural light is freely available, requires little or no kit, and comes in enough different forms to keep your portraits looking varied for many years to come. In fact, many professional photographers use natural light exclusively. Of course, this comes with as many challenges as benefits, with the weather, intensity of the light and time of day being just a few of the variables you’ll need to consider. You’ll need sufficient light on your subject’s face …