The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

BugShot 2012: Composition

Every evening after our final session we would gather in the meeting room and share some photographs for a friendly critique. While it can be unnerving to put your work on display, it can also be an incredibly useful practice. It’s easy to be overly critical of your own work, and having a bunch of objective eyes and opinions can help reveal the things you did well – and those you did not-so-well.

I particularly benefited from hearing the other photographers’ takes on their own pictures: what they liked about the image, why they set it up the way they did, what techniques they used. It made me wish that there was a photography club near where I live, because it would be awesome to have these kinds of exchanges with other people on a regular basis!

Before our first critique session, we were treated to a talk that covered some considerations that we can keep in mind when composing the image. On some level, most of us can recognize a “good” photo when we see one; very often these photos are following a few well-known rules for creating aesthetically pleasing images that tend to resonate with viewers.

Here they are:

1. Photos are often easier or nicer to look at if the point of interest is not dead-center. Try the Rule of Thirds! This is a simple technique that you can apply either when taking the photo or later on when you crop during post-processing.  Here’s a nice example to illustrate how this works.

An example of a photo that follows the rule of thirds. Image from Wikimedia Commons, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Basically, you imagine that your image has a grid overlaid on top of it that divides the image into three equal parts both horizontally and vertically (the image above is square, but in a rectangular photo, each “section” would appear more rectangular). You then try align points of interest with those grid lines. In the example above, the horizon lies along the lowest horizontal third, and the tree is aligned with the vertical third on the right.  Now, that’s not to say that a dead-centre image can’t be arresting and visually beautiful, but do give this little trick a try and see how you like the results!

2. Keep the background simple/uncluttered. Whether or not you apply this tip is going to be dependent on the type of story you want to convey. If you’re photographing a cryptic insect on a substrate that helps illustrate its mastery of camouflage, then an uncluttered background isn’t necessarily going to work well. If, however, a busy background is not part of your story, try to simplify it so that the main focus of the image is pronounced. One way to check whether your focal point stands out is to convert your image to grey scale; after this, is the subject still very obvious?  Consider, for example, these two photos I took of the same subject: two very different objectives are achieved here.

3. Pick your perspective! Different heights or angles can convey different stories. For example, try getting below the bug and pointing the camera up at it! 99% of photos of insects tell the story of “large human looks down on tiny bug”. Getting down to or below the insect’s level instead changes the way you think about the subject.

4.  Don’t forget the human element!  Show people interacting with insects. It can put the image in context, add a little whimsy and playfulness, and might even help demystify our little insect friends for the viewers.


That wraps up my BugShot tips! Other great summaries have been posted here, here, and here, if you’d like to get some other participants’ perspectives on the event!

Tomorrow is Photo Friday, which means that I’ll finally be sharing some of my favourite shots from the workshop!


3 responses to “BugShot 2012: Composition

  1. Ted C. MacRae August 30, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    Excellent summaries, Crystal. Thanks for taking the time to put these together – I feel like a I got a reasonable refresher even though I couldn’t be part of it this year.

  2. scott hogsten August 31, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    I’ll throw couple of more out there, take a look at the image in black and white. Sometime simplifying the image in black and white may reveal something you didn’t expect and give you ideas on cropping the image. Also take a look at the lines within the image. Humans tend to scan images from the upper left across to the upper right take a diagonal down to the lower left then back to the lower right. So placing items of interest along that path or providing things that stop the eye/force it in a different direction can be a powerful tool. The sunset/sunrise image above is a perfect example the lines in the sky pull you towards the sun and the tree as soon as you start, as your eye moves from the upper right to lower left you get stopped by rocks in the water and pulled towards the tree. And of course don’t forget the most important rule of all ! Break the rules !

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