In a perfect photographer’s world, everywhere we look would have beautiful light and an epic story would be unfolding, ready for us to capture.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
In fact, most of the time, in the everyday, we don’t get to have both of those elements come together. However, I do know and recognize the beauty that lies in those moments in between.
These moments deserve to be captured and documented in a beautiful, intentional way as well through the use of composition, which creates a deeper, more visually interesting image, more than just a snapshot.
The most important aspect of a snapshot is the story. After all, isn’t that why we’re documenting? Sometimes the story can lead the photo alone.
Unfortunately, although real life is amazingly beautiful, the memories of everyday life that we want to capture aren’t always the strongest stories to many viewers. They could be details, hints of nostalgia, childhood, connection, growth, and anything else that would create a memory or a feeling.
A second strong element of a photo is the light. Light can help reflect the mood of the story, and can even become a main or secondary subject in an image. The power of light and shadows is immeasurable. From beautiful backlight, sunflares, silhouettes, soft window light, dappled light, light certainly has the capability to enhance a story and an image.
In everyday life, when we want to document as storytellers and parents, a lot of times story and light alone are not strong enough to turn an image into a memorable piece of art. This is when we have to take a snapshot but intentionally make it stronger through composition.
Here are a few tools of composition I use and look for in these situations when I need something extra to make an image stand out.
When I think of a snapshot, I typically think of someone whipping out his or her camera and snapping an image. While this technique does capture the moment or memory, the artistic element is usually lacking.
This first technique of composition really has a powerful impact on an image. Try approaching the scene with a different perspective. Get down on your child’s eye level. Shoot from above. Shoot from below. Yes, I am one of those photographers that will even get under a swinging child for a new perspective, so there may even be risks to this element of composition.
Look around to see if you can include other aspects of the story into your shot to help make the story more complete in the scene. By putting yourself in a different position, you can give the viewer a totally new frame of reference which makes an image more interesting.
Another tool to create a more intentional snapshot is to create depth within the image. Perhaps this would include taking a step back from your subject.
Look for ways to create layers within your view. Is there a bush that can shield a bit of the foreground? What about a hint of a toy? I even sometimes use a wall to “shoot through” to create an image that give a more candid feel.
Layers within an image give the viewer a greater sense of environment as well as makes the eye of the viewer scan the image a little longer, leaving a more lasting impression.
Framing is also a strong element to help bring the eye to the subject and the focus of the image. Look for elements like doorways, windows, and again, shooting through something to put your subject between. Keep an eye out for trees, bushes, buildings, and anything else that could possibly be used to virtually frame your story.
Lines in a photo help take the viewer’s eye to the subject or leads the eye across the frame in a natural way. As humans, we look for lines subconsciously and as photographers, taking advantage of this trait creates a visually appealing image.
Is there a wall you can shoot from? Sidewalk? Path? Try shooting along these elements to direct the viewer’s eye where you want it to go.
Capturing movement is a good tool to help the viewer feel the moment and the story. Take advantage of the spinning/jumping/running child.
This is a fun way to play with your camera settings as well. Try for a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion or slow it down and create another feeling of motion with some added blur. By having a vision for the motion you want to capture and intentionally shooting it, your image will go beyond snapshot quality and will add a layer of enjoyment for the viewer.
Depth of field and focus:
It might sound obvious, but select the focus of the scene intentionally in your images. Typically, our brains might go straight to the main subject of an image to focus on, however, another way to tell the story might be to focus on a foreground object or perhaps to open your aperture and focus on a single detail of the subject.
By being more intentional about what you want to capture you can create a more visually interesting snapshot.
My son has red hair so color is an extremely strong component to a lot of my images. Strong dynamics between colors in an image can pull a viewer in as well.
I look for the differences in color combinations and how I can highlight them within a shot. Again, this may require you as the photographer to explore the area around the subject for various color compositions available.
Another perspective that can create a strong, interesting image is to include negative space. Creating a more simplistic image that tells a story will take the eye directly to the subject. This tool also can create the mood of the story itself just though composition.
Rule of Thirds:
Something as simple as where we put our subject in regards to the frame has an impact on the level of creativity in an intentional snapshot.
The rule of thirds is simply dividing the frame in three equal sections both vertically and horizontally and being intentional about where the subject falls in respect to those sections. This can let us give the viewer a sense of environment by including more viewing area, or can give the viewer even more of the story.
All of these elements are intentional tools a photographer can use to create stronger snapshots. Practicing these compositions will make creating stronger images more natural.
The more often you implement these tools, the less you will need guided as you become more fluent with opportunities to shoot with intent. Oftentimes, using these tools can be a matter of deliberately taking time to scan your surroundings before you get the shot, being intentional about how you want to use what is around you, and how you want to tell the story.
While it is still important to capture a strong story and keep an eye open for opportunities to use beautiful light in your images, using these sorts of composition will help you translate the beauty you see in everyday life to the viewer in a stronger, more exciting way.