Well, hello! We are yet again taking a break from narrating travel stories today and instead scratching the gross, putrid armpit of travel photography. (You can read our previous tutorial here. Additionally, you can find bite-sized travel photography tutorials that we do under #shootwithdarbadar on our Instagram account @darbadartrails.) Be warned though, this guide/series is a non-technical photography guide meant for those who want to learn just enough to shoot decent photographs while travelling without wanting to read a thesis on the subject.

Now that we have put that hairy disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk composition. Composition is the art of putting together various elements in a manner so that the end result, the photograph, is visually appealing. And that, my dear hairy reader, does not always amount to shooting photographs as you see things. (Gasp!)

In this tutorial, we will touch upon three different techniques of composition.These techniques exploit the fundamental working of the human eye and brain. Sounds ridiculous? Not quite. Our brains are wired to like certain patterns and themes more than others. And thus, when these patterns and themes are applied to photographs, we are drawn to them like Kim Jong-un to missiles.

  1. Rule of thirds

    Imagine looking at the city of Milan from a fantastic vantage point. Suddenly, you hear a familiar squeaky voice from somewhere behind. You turn around and lo and behold it is slimy Gajodhar in flesh, ready to rain on your parade yet again, that too in Italy! Where the hell did he come from anyway? Is he stalking you? As momentous as these questions are, we must put them aside for now.

    This is what you shot:

    Landscape with horizon not at 1/3rd

    And this is what he shot:

    Landscape with horizon at 1/3rd

    Notice the difference? Your frenemy has put the rule of thirds to use in his image. If you were to imagine a 3x3 grid on top of your image (strictly speaking, you don’t have to imagine it as every modern camera and most smart phones will let you see a grid on top of your image before you shoot), your subject should either be aligned with a grid line or placed at the intersection of the grid lines but never at the centre. Blah, blah, what? Observe carefully these next two images. (They are the same ones as before but now overlain with a 3x3 grid.)

    Landscape with horizon not at 1/3rd with grid

    Landscape with horizon at 1/3rd with grid
    So here is what you should remember next time you shoot a landscape. Align your horizon with either one of the two horizontal grid lines depending on what is more interesting - the land or the sky. If the sky is more interesting, align your horizon with the lower horizontal grid line so that 2/3rd of your image is the sky. If the sky is a boring, dull blue and what lies beneath is more interesting, align your horizon with the upper horizontal grid line so that the interesting bit takes up most of your image. Got a headache yet? No? Rally on then.

    So does that mean the rule of thirds only applies to landscapes? No. Like I mentioned above, the rule states that the subject should either be placed along or at the intersection of the grid lines. The size of your subject is what decides which one of the two approaches you choose. If it is a person, a parrot or a monument, you should try and place him/her/it at one of the four intersection points like so:

    Image with horizon subject at intersection

    And NOT like this:

    Image with horizon subject not at intersection

  2. Leading lines

    If you see something that resembles a virtual line, say a bridge, or yellow markings on the road, use that line to lead your viewer’s attention to the subject. Before you start hurling expletives at me for calling this guide non-technical in the beginning, feast your eyes:

    Bad example of leading lines

    Good example of leading lines

    The weird bridge-like structure in the water (what the hell is that thing anyway?) is a virtual line. The moment you look at the picture, your eyes will automatically start following that line till the point where it ends. If you say no, that’s not what my eyes do, I will thwack you in the head. No, seriously. When you look at any picture, you will, often without realizing, follow any virtual line in the picture. The human brain is wired to do that. The trick then, is to place your subject exactly where that line ends. Example 2 uses this technique with perfection. Example 1 on the other hand sticks a virtual middle finger right in your eyes.

    Next time Gajodhar asks you to shoot his picture, find a virtual line then place him way off the end of that line. Muhahahaha.

  3. Foreground

    A very common challenge in photography is to create a sense of depth since a photograph is essentially two-dimensional. When I say depth, I don’t mean it in a philosophical way. Your photograph should gradually draw the viewer in by imitating the way we naturally see things – from that which lies closest to us to that which is furthest. A great way thus, to add depth to your image is by including a simple element in the foreground. It could be a stone, a flower or grass.

    Landscape without foreground

    Landscape with foreground

    Example 2 uses foreground (the snow covered ground) to create depth. Example 1 on the other hand is as useless as your local MLA.

    And that’s it for today. Let us know in the comments below if you found this useful, or if you have any questions. Feel free to share this post and sing our praises because that is all we care about.