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Problem picture #4

What's wrong with this picture?


What would you do to improve this picture?
What would you do to improve this picture?

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

It has two fundamental flaws, both of which could have been corrected by the photographer.

  • Too far away - The subject in the photograph is clearly too small in the frame, because the photographer stood too far away when taking the picture.
  • The surroundings do not contribute to the image at all, other than to cause clutter, including the car's nose and a part of the house sticking into the image frame, and the unsightly patch of soil where the lawn is missing. (See our section on Framing for pointers on avoiding similar problems.)

Move in to eliminate non-essentials
Move in to eliminate non-essentials

FILL THE FRAME

If the photographer had moved closer to fill the frame with the center of interest or used a telephoto lens to bring the subject nearer, the non-essential elements in the picture would have been eliminated, and the picture would have been greatly improved. We cropped a section of the larger picture (above) to show you, roughly, how close the photographer should have been to properly fill the frame.

PHOTOGRAPHING A GORILLA

There are some subjects you can't or just shouldn't get too close to - this gorilla below, for example. However, you can still fill the frame if you switch to a long enough lens.

One subject you probably shouldn't get closer to
One subject you probably shouldn't get closer to

If you don't have a long lens, as a last resort, you can shoot the picture while planning to crop the image later so that only a portion of the frame is enlarged, as shown below. In order for such severe cropping to be successful, your film, if you are shooting with a traditional camera, should be a fine-grained, slow speed film that will retain detail when it becomes enlarged. If you are shooting digitally, your camera's sensitivity setting should be in the range of ISO 100.

 This picture was cropped from the larger image
This picture was cropped from the larger image

"I DISAGREE," A VIEWER WROTE

A viewer told us she disagreed that our gorilla image was improved by moving in on the animal to fill the frame. She said she preferred the first composition that shows the gorilla in its surroundings. We didn't argue with her, because she was right, but that doesn't necessarily mean we are wrong. Determining what to fill the frame with depends upon what the photographer wants to convey. If you wish to emphasize the gorilla on its own, you move in and fill the frame with the gorilla. If you'd like your composition to show a gorilla in its habitat, then you don't fill the frame with the animal, but instead employ it as an object in your composition, as shown in the first picture above. The gorilla remains the center of interest in the picture, but the subject of your photography becomes the gorilla's enclosure, and it fills the frame.

The pictures below of a brilliantly-colored damsel fly perhaps provide a clearer, less-contentious example of how an image is improved by filling the frame with the center of interest.

The damsel fly is clearly intended by the photographer to be the center of interest, but it seems
The damsel fly is clearly intended by the photographer to be the center of interest, but it seems "lost" in the picture.

The damsel fly resting on the stump is obviously what the photographer intended to capture.

Although it is the image's center of interest, it is lacking interest, since there is so much clutter around and the damsel fly is too far away and too small a part of the scene to reveal much detail. By using a macro lens and moving in really close to fill the frame with the damsel fly (or by staying in the same place and using a telephoto lens to bring you closer), the distracting clutter is eliminated and there is plenty of subject detail to interest the viewer. A better camera angle also improved the picture.

Think of it this way: The first image above is of a garden area with a damsel fly in it; whereas the image below it is indisputably a portrait of a damsel fly. There's the difference.

Click on Photographing insects for more information on taking pictures of insects and insect-like creatures.

Moving in and filling the frame with the damsel fly provides the viewer with an entirely new perspective of the center of interest, and makes a much more appealing photograph.
Moving in and filling the frame with the damsel fly provides the viewer with an entirely new perspective of the center of interest, and makes a much more appealing photograph.

Edward Cocks has his own thoughts on the composition of the gorilla photo.
Edward Cocks has his own thoughts on the composition of the gorilla photo.

ANOTHER VIEWER'S POINT OF VIEW REGARDING OUR GORILLA PICTURES

Viewer Edward Cocks from Canberra, Australia, wrote: "I was looking at the photo of the gorilla in the What's Wrong with this Photo section. I think that the setting of the gorilla is quite striking, and should be a part of the photo. However the composition as it stands is definitely missing something. Cropping some of the bottom of the shot, and a little off the left hand side would create a more panoramic perspective, and improve the composition.

"The first thing which struck me about the composition of this photo was the rock on the right hand side. The top of this rock lines up almost perfectly with the apex of the line of the floor (toward the middle of the photo) and also the intersection of two lines on the left hand side. It is also aligned with the softer edge of the rock behind it. By cropping the bottom of the image, these points mark the bottom third of the photo.

"Both the left and right hand sides of the image contain strong lines between light and dark (the wall on the left, and the pillar on the right). What's more, intersections of these lines with the roof of the cave occur at the same level (vertically) These intersection points are nicely placed in the top third. Cropping a small amount from the left hand side of the photo results in an equal distance between the vertical line and the left edge when compared to the corresponding line on the right hand side (improves the symmetry would probably be a better way of saying that).

"The gorilla itself then provides an interesting subject placed very close to the intersection of the bottom third and left third. The lines in the rock lead you into the photo nicely with the diagonals creating a vanishing point somwhere just behind the gorilla."

Thank you, Edward, for your observations and thoughts. It just shows you how different photographers can see the same image in many ways, with none of them being necessarily wrong.

Click here for Problem picture #5.

 
Further information...
Center of Interest
Framing
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