Outdoor Composition: 3 Techniques (Part 1 of 2)

Despite a couple of weather hiccups this spring, involving snowstorms, we are slowly warming up, and I know that many of you are well into summer-like weather. With spring blooms on the horizon, where I live, we are venturing outside a lot more often. Heading back outdoors has rejuvenated my creativity, and I’ve started to look for new but familiar places to photograph my children. With that, I’ve also become excited about exploring composition outdoors. Composition is an essential tool in photography as it can attract a viewer’s attention, lead a viewer through a frame, help tell a story and infuse intention into what the artist is trying to convey visually. Intentional use of composition will help you become a stronger photographer.

Here are a few techniques and elements of composition that I like to use in my outdoor images.  

1. Incorporate foreground elements

Incorporating foreground elements within a frame can help add depth to an image, which creates a more three dimensional and lifelike feeling.  There are several ways foreground elements can be infused into an image.  One of my favourite ways to layer an image and create that foreground is to get down low, and by low, I mean flat, often laying on my stomach to capture an image.  This results in a nice blurred foreground if you are shooting at a reasonably wide aperture and focusing on your subject in the distance.

ISO 200, 200mm, 3.2f, 1/1250SS

A second-way foreground elements can be incorporated into an image is simply by shooting from behind an element like a tree, shrub, grasses, and so on.  This technique is a favourite of mine when I backlight my subjects because the foreground objects typically catch the light creating beautiful sparkly foreground bokeh and glow.

ISO 800, 105mm, f2.8, 1/1000SS

A third way in which to incorporate foreground elements is to use creative techniques like a prism.  I love how a prism can reflect surrounding natural elements into an image or how a beautiful rainbow-like flare can infuse a little creative magic into a capture, making it fun and unique.

ISO 400, 105mm, f2.8, 1/1250SS

2. Framing

Framing is a fantastic way to bring attention to a subject or subjects within an image.  Outdoors, I find opportunities to frame exist everywhere!  Subjects can be framed in park play structures, doorways of tunnels, in doorways of buildings, through windows of a structure, through fences, between tree trucks, amongst tree branches, between grasses, and so on.  Being aware of naturally occurring and structural objects and using them in a way that frames your subject can creatively elevate an image.

ISO 400, 105mm, f2.8, 1/1250SS

3. Leading lines

Leading lines not only help bring a viewer’s attention to your subject but can also add depth to an image and lead your viewer's eye through a frame, helping tell a story.  I like to look for elements like pathways, human-made and naturally occurring, shorelines, logs, tree branches and anything that helps lead my eye towards my subject in a fun and creative way.

ISO 400, 105mm, f2.8, 1/640SS

I hope you’ll enjoy incorporating some of these compositional techniques into your outdoor images! You can find Part 2 of this series on composition, with more great tips, here


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