Composition Tip: Fill the Frame

Image of brown trout in Brodin Ghost Net caught and release on a fly in the Weber River, UT

Image of brown trout in Brodin Ghost Net caught and release on a fly in the Weber River, UT

Fill.
The.
Frame.

Too many times our images are left wanting. Sometimes this has to do with including too much, sometimes it has to do with including too little. Sometimes, it has nothing to do not with what we include, but HOW and WHERE we include it.

Fall foliage in Big Cottonwood Canyon, UT

Fall foliage in Big Cottonwood Canyon, UT

In general, study the edge of your frame when you shoot and make sure there is nothing distracting that’s impeding upon either the subject or message (or both) of your image.

I have a rule I try and hold myself to: Make an image as interesting or engaging as possible with as little as possible.

Schooner in Sausalito Bay with San Francisco Skyline in background.

Schooner in Sausalito Bay with San Francisco Skyline in background.

There are, however, two caveats to this.

1. Know how your image will be used. Do you need to leave more negative space than you typically would for logos, copy or other extraneous additions to the image? You may want to shoot several versions of the “same” image; one for you, and one for potential stock/editorial/commercial usage.

Image of Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. Arenal, Costa Rica.

Image of Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. Arenal, Costa Rica.

2. Know when to break the rules. This is a grey caveat. It relies on your creative intuition. There are times when the scene in front of you will be chaotic. The truly skilled photographer will still be able to tame that chaos into an approachable, meaningful image.

Be Diverse. Be Exceptional.

It seems these days that there way too many photographers trying to be everything to everyone. Landscape? You got it. Portraiture? No problem. Architecture? Psshh. Easy. Action? Clockwork. Photojournalism? I think I studied that in college. I think. Weddings? Yeah man. I KNOW this camera has a “wedding” setting…

The truth is, these photographers have the right idea, it’s just that (IMO) the execution is poor. There is a fine line between being diverse enough to cover a significant gamut of photography, and spreading yourself too thin and trying to be the veritable “Leatherman” of photographers. However, unless you’re Vincent LaForet, Tom Mangelsen, David Muench, Scott Markewitz or some other iconic and established photog in their own respective genre, you must be able to shoot numerous types of imagery, and shoot them well.

To a certain extent, this goes against much of what I’ve learned and lived by to this point in photography. Previously, I was of the mind that you should find a niche and devote yourself to mastering every aspect of that niche. Whether that be landscape, wedding, commercial or whatever–I still believe it is very important to find which type of imagery really makes your heart sing, and for which you have a great talent and skill. It’s important, however, to be able to step outside that comfort zone, and apply what you know to different types of imagery. Perhaps it’s to earn more money. Perhaps it’s to expand your creative horizons. Perhaps it’s to learn a new technical skill. Whatever the reason, commit yourself to branching out a bit and trying something new. Below are a couple of thoughts that may help you in crossing this new bridge.

1. Don’t forget the basics. While some techniques may be different with different types of imagery, the fundamentals are still the same.

A summer rainbow shines brightly over a grouping of veterans' graves at the Salt Lake City Cemetary.

A summer rainbow shines brightly over a grouping of veterans' graves at the Salt Lake City Cemetary.

2. Take what you have learned (or are particularly skilled at), and add it to what you hope to achieve. Whether you’re a master of composition, lighting, posing, filters, alternative angles or whatever–take that with you and apply it to this new area of photography. Just this morning, while shooting architectural work for a commercial client, I turned to many of my trusted landscape filters to control challenging exposures.

Fountain and Salt Lake City Temple at dusk.

Fountain and Salt Lake City Temple at dusk.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail. Because you will, and that’s all there is to it. Simply stated, it’s never fun to fall short of excellence, especially when you know you have what it takes in other areas of photography. But we all know you can’t win the game if you don’t play.

Rainbow trout in Brodin Ghost Net.

Rainbow trout in Brodin Ghost Net.

4. Be a sponge. Soak it alllllll up! Scour the internet. Ask questions to accomplished photogs. Read books. Shoot, shoot, shoot. There are so many resources at our fingertips these days–there really is no excuse not to be able to excel at something if you put your heart and mind to it.

Sunset over the Middle Provo River, UT

Sunset over the Middle Provo River, UT

5. Resist the urge to blame shortcomings on equipment. Strive to beat the odds regardless. Yes–there is always some piece of equipment we lust after. Sometimes, it’s a necessity. Most of the time, it’s a luxury. Most action photogs will tell you it’s necessary to have a camera that shoots 8 fps or more to capture action well. While I agree that it certainly helps to have a faster camera (as I found out this year), it’s entirely possible to nail the shot with less. I was fortunate to have several ski images published this past winter–all shot with a slower camera.

Lamson Litespeed Fly Fishing Reel

Lamson Litespeed Fly Fishing Reel

6. Be willing to take advice and apply it. ‘Nuff said.

Now go push your envelope. You will accomplish greatness in new and exciting ways. It just might give you that extra spark you’ve been needing…