One of the first pieces of advice a professional photographer will offer a budding new shooter is to ditch the act of placing their subject in the middle of the frame in favor of more visually compelling composition techniques. Some of the more popular composition techniques suggested would include utilizing the rules of thirds, incorporating leading lines, layering the photograph, and more.
But center composition can be rather striking—when used thoughtfully. And adding in one or two more compositional techniques to the overall frame can help a center-composed image stand apart even more. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing to utilize a center composition:
1. Make sure that your subject is striking enough to command the frame. Keep in mind, though, that when it comes to portraiture, the subject isn’t always necessarily a person. It can be whatever the photographer feels commands the most attention—sometimes it’s the relationship between individuals; sometimes it’s the spirit or expression or attitude one conveys.
© Tamara Lackey
2. Keep the rest of your frame as clean as possible, unless specific elements contribute to your intended point of focus. It can be challenging to keep a center-composed image from looking too busy if there are additional elements in the frame competing for the viewer’s intention. If it takes a little extra time to clean up a scene before photographing a center-composed subject, it’s worth the effort to do so.
3. Incorporating natural framing can help isolate your intended point of interest from its surroundings. Natural framing is any element that, well, naturally frames your subject—such as trees and branches, doorways and archways, and curved objects. Thoughtfully choosing to bring these elements into your frame can often further enhance focus on your main subject.
When all is said and done, remember that composition is, after all, simply a form of organization. Take the time to organize your frame as thoughtfully as possible, and you’ll create an extraordinary way for you to showcase what you care about most.
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Tamara Lackey is a portrait photographer whose work has been described as "expressive, soulful, funny, beautiful" and has appeared in such publications as O Magazine, Men's Journal and Parenting Magazine. Her imagery has also been showcased on ABC's The Martha Stewart Show, ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and NBC's The Today Show. When not shooting, Tamara is writing about and teaching photography, business and work/life balance at workshops and conferences around the world. She is also the founder of www.AllInOneLife.com, a website dedicated to creative entrepreneurs who are bringing together family, work, and the most meaningful aspects of their life. Tamara is the co-producer and host of Inside Contemporary Children's Photography and the Booklist Editors' award-winning Capturing Life Through (Better) Photography media series. She has authored four books and her most recent publications are Envisioning Family and The Posing Playbook.
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When Center Composition can Elevate a Portrait
Tamara Lackey on portrait composition
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