Learn Digital Photography – How to Place Your Subject for Maximum Effect
Most beginner and even intermediate photographers have this problem at some stage in their photographic journeys. Knowing where to place a subject for maximum effect in a scene is critical so by following these simple steps you’ll achieve great images.
1. Choose your subject carefully.
When choosing your subject make sure that it relates to the setting in which it is placed. Unless you are trying to make a statement about pollution by placing a piece of garbage in a wonderful rural location, make sure that the subject fits into the image. The subject should to some degree have an impact of its own. A drab uninteresting subject in a beautiful location will remove some of the impact from a potentially great image. This doesn’t mean that if that subject has significance to you that it should not be included. Key here is to give it some thought and see if it works.
2. Place your subject with care
Rules are meant to be broken but unless you know and understand them don’t try to break them when starting out. The first rule of subject placement is called the rule of thirds. The Greeks discovered this thousands of years ago and it still works today. Divide your image into thirds vertically and then horizontally. If you were to draw lines across your image it would look like a tic tac toe or noughts and crosses grid. Where these lines intersect is where you will endeavour to place your subject or focal point. At the very least, it should be as close as possible to an intersection. If your subject is a tall lighthouse then place it along one of the vertical thirds lines and not an intersection. The same goes for long subjects and horizons, these should be placed along a horizontal third line. Never place a subject or horizon in the middle of a photo unless you are breaking the rule for a particular effect. This will cut the image in half and not look pleasing to the eye. There are exceptions but leave that until you know what you are doing.
3. Remove unnecessary clutter
Whenever you compose an image make sure that the subject takes a lead role. It should never compete for attention. When someone looks at your image it should always be clear who or what the subject is. By excluding clutter in a scene the subject becomes clearer and takes its place in the overall image. This is often achieved by how much space the subject takes up in the image. If the subject is the same size as the competing elements it will lose its emphasis and appear as just one of many parts of the photo. As the old adage goes, less is more and by keeping it simple you will achieve an overall image that is striking.
4. Simplify your backgrounds
This is a challenge beginner photographers face when attempting to place a subject for real effect. Always make sure that your background is simple and not full of clutter. This immediately has the effect of lifting the subject to the importance it deserves. When a subject is lost in the busyness of a background it loses its emphasis and becomes just another element of the image. By moving your feet and changing your position you will often change what appears in the background. If you can’t do that then move the subject and if you can’t do that then reconsider the whole image.
5. Focus selectively
Using depth of field is a solution to busy backgrounds and helps to effectively emphasise a subject. By using a shallow depth of field or focus you will blur out a busy background and actually use it to your advantage. By changing the f-stop to a small number you create a shallow depth of field. This has effect of taking clutter and competing elements and blurring them so that they become a soft background of shapes and colour helping to lift the subject to a place of prominence.
Knowing what to include or exclude in an image will help you increase or decrease the effectiveness of your subject. The key here is to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to try different effects. It costs nothing to shoot a few dozen extra images. Happy shooting!
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Wayne Turner studied with the New York Institute of Photography, has been teaching photography for 30 years and has written three books on photography.