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Photography Basics, with Charlotte Woolrych Photography

Welcome to a new series by Charlotte of Charlotte Woolrych Photography who has kindly shared her knowledge of her photography skills and technique for us to learn from. This month, Charlotte will take you through the basic photography principles.


The first steps in learning to take a ‘good’ photo always starts with learning the basics, and in an art form such as photography, composition is a good basic to start with! Story telling in photography often relies on use of specific composition to show the viewer your intention.

At first glance, this might seem like too much info BUT most of this blog is comprised of visual examples, as I think that’s the best way to learn – by seeing it in action!

The Basic Composition Layouts:

1 – The Rule of Thirds

What is the Rule of Thirds? Quite simply, imagine your photograph as being divided, both horizontally and vertically into thirds, by straight lines. (Many cameras show these lines on the screen when you turn your camera to ‘LV’ or Live-view mode!)

Using both the line and spaces as a guide to composing your image is a way of guiding the eyes of people viewing your photography to the subject of the photo. In the photo above, the subject is clearly the centre of the middle column AND the bottom line, meaning that your eye is drawn to her. To frame the background, I have used the bottom line as the horizon line, to allow the top two-thirds of the image to be my sky or ‘negative space’ in this case.

In Landscape Photography: For beginners, in landscape photography, it is often more pleasing to the eye to place the horizon line along either the bottom or top line of your image, rather than having it hover in the centre of the image. This shows the viewer if you want their attention is drawn to the sky or the landscape of the image.

In Portrait Photography: Using the rule of thirds when taking portraits can DRAMATICALLY improve your photography fast and prevent you from making ‘beginners mistakes’.

Newer photographers often tend to focus on the head of their model, and in the process leave far too much empty space above the head and cut off the lower half of the model awkwardly.

Using the rule of thirds to place the models head in the top third of the image, reducing the amount of empty space, means that the viewer’s eye can be drawn directly to them. For closer portraits, drawing the top line through the eyes can be a good way of keeping the portrait nicely contained.

For full-body portraits, position your model in one of the columns of your image, or down one of the lines to make them fit in with your background.

2 – The Vanishing Point, and Leading Lines

The vanishing point is the point where if you carried on some of the main lines in your photo, they would eventually vanish.

Leading Lines can be used with or without the vanishing point, to make your viewer look at a certain point in the image.

In the image to the right, the leading lines of the bridge cause the viewer’s eyes to travel upwards to the boy on the bridge which otherwise the viewer might not have seen.

These composition techniques are great for storytelling with your images and force you to really consider the photos you’re taking when in cities or nature.

3 – Head and feet space

One of the most common beginner mistakes is cutting off the hair, or feet of their model when taking a ‘full body’ portrait. In order to make sure you don’t do this, try to visualise a small rectangle above the head of your model, and one about half the size below the model’s feet.

Clearly here I have allowed more negative space for the sky, but I have used the principle to ensure I did not cut my feet off!

Using this photo as an example, let’s look at how it applies the 4 composition rules we have seen so far.

The path through the crops, and my eyeline show the vanishing point, which curves the same direction as my gaze, making leading lines. I am in the middle third of the photo, with the horizon on the bottom line to make space for the sky and my head and feet are firmly in the photo!

Rules are made to be broken, especially compositional rules, but you should learn the rules first so you can break them with intention! Just knowing these 4 rules should help you skip out on some of the mistakes beginners always make (having awkwardly composed photos or cutting off the subjects’ limbs).

Good luck and happy creating

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