let’s learn composition | negative space

Negative space is the ’emptiness’ between an object and another or the ‘edge’ of the image. Negative space is a standard in the art world (think Cy Twombly or Mark Rothko) but has become an increasingly popular trend in many elements of design (the white space in web pages, simpler logos) as well as photography. I think in particular for photography the use of negative space is a simple tool to highlight something specific: perhaps the simplicity or beauty of an object.

Negative space also allows space for the viewer to come in and wonder around and feel the emotions that you (as the photographer/artist) are trying to communicate – loneliness, calmness, peace.

But I think I have a new appreciation for the idea after reading this piece by David Duchemin for Artifact Uprising. Ponder these words:

there is only so much impact a frame can contain; the more the included elements compete for that impact, the less impact any one part of the frame can have. That is to say, the photograph is stronger for the photographer’s ability to say no.

Obviously that doesn’t mean all images should fully embrace the concept of negative space but perhaps concentrating on the subject and what is important can help bring the value of what is created through negative space with your more ‘inclusive pictures’.

Let’s look at some examples.

like atlantis fog and light in trieste Forest Gallery | Cereal+Protein Gallery Exhibition verona hill

One of the easiest subjects to capture with the minimalist effect of negative space are landscapes. It really highlights the lines of  the landscape or highlights a feature. Think of the ‘postcard’ images of Tuscany with rolling hills and a tree or farmhouse on a hill somewhere. As the viewer of such an image, I am also left feeling the grandeur or awe of a place when you think of the amount of space you would take up in that image.

keith brymer jones decorations - MYCreative tiporenesansa-letterpress-mycreative

Use of negative space in interiors and styled shots really helps the graphic elements to stand out.

portrait of a lady female portrait 4 - michelle young portrait of baby

Again, in portraiture the negative space really acts as a way to frame and highlight the person (or people) you are photographing.

Max Wanger is one photographer in particular who uses negative space in a really beautiful and effective way to simplify his images and highlight the subject. Creating plenty of room for emotion.

What do you think of negative space? Do you use it often? Share some examples in the comments if you like.

let’s learn composition | framing


Okay so it took me a while to get to the next ‘lesson’ but better late than never, right?

In the last lesson I noted

“composition helps us to highlight our subject. When rules aren’t followed the subject might have to compete for attention with other items in the frame therefore diminishing the ‘quality’ of your picture. Obviously rules are also meant to be broken but knowing the rules means you can be intentional about breaking them.”

This time around I am looking at framing. Framing is simply using something to ‘frame’ your subject and therefore draw the eye to them. This idea started long before photography in paintings where the subject(s) are often placed in windows, door frames or arches.

Lets look at some photographs as examples…

framing-silhouette-tunnel framing-doorway framing-window

There are so many opportunities for framing: windows, doorways, tunnels. But it doesn’t stop there.

framing-curtain framing-stars framing-unusual framing-trees-and-people

Also look for frames that are a little different. Go for something a bit subtle. Or go for a more unusual shape. Use people and anything that is around you. (Necklace by Lotts and Lots).


Sometimes you can even use a frame! (styling by Charlotte Love)


Framing your object obviously doesn’t happen every time you take a picture. However, if there is a frame opportunity happening make sure you make the most of it. The photo above could have been better if I had shifted so that both subjects sat in the doorway.

What do you think?

Do you use framing? Share an image where you have used framing in an interesting way.

let’s learn composition | rule of thirds

learning how to compose photographs - the rule of thirds

I loved teaching my photography walk-shops when I was in London and I always felt the attendees got a real understanding for getting onto manual, but there are so many composition rules that exist that they sometimes got buried under by technical questions. With so many posts about ISO, aperture and shutter speed along with everything else (which are of course incredibly useful) I think the idea of what we are capturing sometimes loses weight. I even find myself often overthinking the technical and not getting a beautifully composed image. With this ‘series’ I don’t want to give technical blow by blow but some examples and tips.

As I mentioned a couple weeks back composition helps us to highlight our subject. When rules aren’t followed the subject might have to compete for attention with other items in the frame therefore diminishing the ‘quality’ of your picture. Obviously rules are also meant to be broken but knowing the rules means you can be intentional about breaking them.

I’ll start with the rule of thirds because that is probably the one that everyone has heard about. Put simply the rule of thirds breaks your picture up with two horizontal lines and two vertical lines and then your task is to use those lines to highlight your subject. That can mean placing your subject on an intersection point or breaking up your picture into the thirds (most often seen with landscapes)

Let’s look at some pictures…


Rule of thirds - portraits Considering the rules of thirds - portraits rule-of-thirds-6-mycreative

When shooting portraits bear these points in mind:

  • Place the eyes on (or near) one of the lines and an intersection as possible. If you are shooting faces the eyes should be the focal point as, you know, eyes are the windows to the soul and all.
  • If the subject is placed in a segment of the frame and looking to the side they should look to the side which has more space. When the subject looks immediately off to the side it leaves the viewer anxious, wondering what they are looking at.


rule-of-thirds-7-mycreative rule-of-thirds-4-mycreative rule-of-thirds-2-mycreative

For objects it is important to consider what your actual focus point is going to be. Will it be the spoon or the watermelon? Which part of the picture do you want to highlight. In the third image because it is a flat plane and therefore everything is in focus the segments are used (as in landscape).



The main point to remember when using the rule of thirds for landscape is what you want to highlight or capture. What has the most interesting texture – the sky or the land? Also bear in mind if there is a specific ‘something’ in the landscape that you want to highlight.

Breaking the rules

Of course you don’t always have to follow this rule. Perhaps it is the symmetry of the image that you want to capture instead. Or place your subject in the middle or somewhere else altogether if you feel. Just be intentional about what it is you want to do.

Challenge time!

Take a look at some pictures that you have pinned and see if you can see how the rule of thirds has been used. Examine some of your own pictures and see if you naturally capture some images this way already, you might be surprised.

Then take some pictures to practise the rule. Take photos of a person, an object and a landscape using the rule of thirds.

If you would like share a link to the images (wherever they may be – flickr, instagram, your blog, google+ etc). I will choose a handful to provide feeback over on my Facebook page.

I’d love to know if you find this type of post helpful and if you would like to see more.

what is the subject?

what is the subject

I find myself mindlessly scrolling through people’s blog posts and looking at their pictures, catching a line or two of text if the pictures look interesting. I don’t think that is going to change to be honest but I thought it was a good metaphor for how we even look at pictures sometimes and therefore how we take pictures.

Point, click, done.

Without trying to sound pompous, taking pictures on film (with only 24-36 frames) really makes you slow down and think before you shoot. What is the subject? What do I want to highlight? I don’t always get it right but I get a good ratio of decent to throw away pictures on a roll of film. But when I shoot on digital that ratio widens. I don’t focus on the subject all the time. Clutter gets in and I ignore the rules of composition. Now sometimes the rules need to be broken but a vast history of art exists which show us the rules work. They lead the eye, grab our attention, create an atmosphere.

I thought I might share some tips on composition over the next while if people are interested (so let me know if you are interested by commenting).

But today’s post is just to remind you to start thinking about the subject. Sometimes it is obvious. A person or a group of people, a vase of flowers. Sometimes it is less obvious. Sometimes you zoom in on the flowers – now which one is the subject, the one tilting it’s head. Or what about when you are shooting a landscape. Sometimes it is the castle on the hill but maybe it is just a beautiful scene. Even then a picture becomes more interesting and people look more intently when something captures the eye. A lone tree, a bench or a person in the distance. Even when the subject is a ‘scene’, being aware of what you want to highlight helps you to frame the picture, consider focal point and use compositional rules to lead the eye.

By being conscious of choosing your subject you can instantly start taking better photos.

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy these tips for composing better images and an exercise in light.

practising your composition awareness

So, as I mentioned, I went away on our familymoon and totally forgot to take a charger for my dslr and thus was stuck with a useless bunch of extra weight for our holiday! I did however pack my film camera about which I was incredibly happy about. In retrospect it is a very interesting exercise to be limited by a film camera to practise photography, particularly the composition aspect.

I thought I would share some analysis of a few of the photos I took. If you are interested in working on your own composition you can pick up a point and shoot disposable camera for a few pounds and developing can be done at Snappy Snaps.

Image One

composition-awareness-image1-mycreative composition-awareness-image1-marked-mycreative

This is just basically all off. The point of focus I was aiming for is the family group on the bench. The framing doesn’t really draw your attention to them at all, however, and the background is distracting. Plus there are lots of elements on the edges that clutter the picture.

I could potentially have moved around and had them straight on with the less distracting and more atmospheric church, but street photography with a non-automatic focusing camera has some difficulties. Alternatively moving a bit closer might have helped (my camera has a prime lens so moving rather than zooming is the option).

Image Two

composition-awareness-image2-mycreative composition-awareness-image2-marked-mycreative

Looking back on the images in retrospect I sometimes wonder what I was ‘thinking’ in taking the image. I think in this image I was trying to photograph the bicycle with flowers balanced with the old man smoking. However, the bike on the edge and the person with the shopping totally limit the viewers ability to focus on this balance.

Getting lower might have helped to get rid of the sign above the gentleman’s head too. And maybe a few steps to the left would have helped get the right ‘balance’.

Image Three


Can you see a pattern emerging here in where I go wrong? Cropping in camera is a handy skill. If I had ‘zoomed’ in and just got the lady and the dog I would have been happy with the picture. Half chopped off bodies are distracting!

Also, I am terrible at getting straight photos!

Okay so now I need to go out and practise some more…

Did you find this useful? Would you like to see some more ‘dissection’ posts?