Photographer Jim Zuckerman explains how to use light, color, motion, camera techniques, and the elements of a scene to create engaging photographic compositions in his sixteen-part series.
Jim Zuckerman's images and articles on photography have been featured in hundreds of publications, and he has taught at many institutions, as well as through his own workshops. He is the author of 22 books on photography. To learn more about his work and subscribe to his emagazine, visit his website.
Composition is a vital ingredient in what makes a strong and visually compelling photograph. It refers to the way elements are arranged in a photograph. If the composition in a photograph (or work of art) is successful, the arrangement of the various parts of the image will be artistically pleasing. If the composition is not good, it is usually because it is off-balance, visually confusing, busy, or even boring. Since art is in the eye of the beholder, people can differ in their opinions about what makes a successful composition. However, there are generally accepted guidelines that I will present to you that will help crystallize in your mind what makes a strong composition.
Sometimes a striking composition appears suddenly as you’re driving down a country road or walking in a large city. When I am traveling by car or walking on any street or hiking trail, I am always looking for attractive groups of elements. Photography has taught me to do this, because you never know when a great picture will present itself. Most of the time, however, you have to spend a great deal of time and energy to seek out artistic photographic compositions. This might require hiking over long and arduous trails in the mountains, driving for hours in a national park, or patiently posing models in a studio or in some exotic location. It might take you dozens of shots before you finally see the shot that has a winning composition. It helps to be able to previsualize an idea in your mind, but sometimes this ability has nothing to do with coming up with beautiful photos.
No one ever said finding a great composition is easy. It’s not. What makes it so tough is that the world is what I call a “compositional mess.” Just look out the window of your home and you will see all kinds of stuff. Depending on where you live, you might see trees, power lines, a mountain ridge, high-rise buildings, a freeway, a row of mailboxes, an expanse of desert, a lake–and when you think of organizing all these elements into an attractive composition it can be somewhat overwhelming. In addition, the lenses you use have different ways of seeing things. Wide-angle lenses capture a very different type of image than a telephoto lens does. This further complicates the issue.
In this series, I will define for you what makes a good composition from different points of view. Once you incorporate them into your photography, you’ll see a dramatic difference in the artistry of your work. Be patient with yourself, though. It takes time. This doesn’t happen overnight. It took me years before I was confident in my ability to find and create successful compositions on a regular basis.
Read the full series:
- The Rule of Thirds
- Leading Lines
- Graphic Design
- Classic Landscape Technique
- Moving into the Frame
- Distinctive Perspectives
- Light's Influence
- Negative Space
- Breaking the Rules