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Page 1 Matthew Studebaker

Written By onci on Wednesday, January 6, 2010 | 4:50 PM

Composition – Back to the Basics by Matthew Studebaker

Composition refers to the elements you chose to include within the borders of your photograph. Good composition is a result of paying attending to what objects are in the frame and how they are arranged. A composition can be altered dramatically by simply taking a step forward, backward, zooming in or out, moving a few feet to either side, by standing up or laying down, shooting in vertical or horizontal mode, even by cropping the photo during post-processing. Every photographer makes these decisions for every image they create. Paying attention to why each decision is made will allow the photographer to compose more carefully and purposefully.

Arrangement of the Elements
Placing the bird in the frame not only depends on which way the bird is facing, but also on what else is included in the frame. Each piece of visual information must be accounted for and balanced out in the composition. Many two-dimensional design courses in college teach students to imagine there is a fulcrum at the bottom of the image and the elements in the image must be balanced so the image does not tip over visually. Our sense of gravity affects the way we design our images. Heavy, dark objects tend to look better at the bottom of the frame, and if something large is on one side of the image, it helps to have something on the opposite side of the frame to balance it out.

In the photography and art world, the term “hierarchy” refers to making some elements more important than others in your composition. In bird photography, creating hierarchy means that we make the bird the most important object in the frame, and all other objects are less important, do not distract, and do not dominate over our subject, the bird. There are many ways a photographer can create hierarchy. In the end, the bird should simply be the brightest, most colorful, most in focus, or largest object in the frame. Our eyes naturally gravitate towards the brightest area in the frame. For this reason, a bright patch of sky showing through the trees in the background can be wildly distracting. A branch, leaf or other natural object larger than the bird in the frame can compete with a bird for our attention and throw off the hierarchy of the image.

Matthew Studebaker
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