How Camera Angles Improve Composition

by William Lulow

Composition is all about seeing camera angles that tend to lead the viewer’s eye into the scene. The photographer needs to be able to use elements within the scene to direct the eye to the parts of the scene that are most important. There are several ways to do this:

  • Use an interesting foreground element
  • Focus sharpness on the foreground
  • Use vanishing point lines
  • Use light correctly (light objects tend to stand out or draw attention while dark objects tend to recede)
  • Use elements that tend to hold visual attention

Even though composition is mostly an innate talent, its elements can be taught through example.

Portugal2007-0630-1_Porto_DouroRiverIn this image, it is the angle of the walkway in the foreground that leads the viewer’s eye into the scene. The bridge, with a straight line going from left to right actually keeps the eye going back to the buildings in the center. Also, the arrangement of the boats tends to form a triangle that also leads the eye across the river and to the tallest building. It’s a strong composition because the eye is attracted at first and then kept “in the scene” by the other visual elements.

RowBoats_Ogunquit_0056WEBThis image uses the composition element of the railings leading to the center (vanishing point) to attract and retain the viewer’s eye. The lighter part of the image (the river bed) takes the eye out to the horizon and then back again to pick up the details of the boats. It is a strong composition because the viewer’s interest is retained by the interplay of lights and darks.

AspenTrunks(BW)_1(WEB)In this image, the line of the trees draws the eye’s attention at first. Then the play of lights and darks keeps the focus on the tree trunks themselves. There is also a kind of vanishing point set up running from left to right. It is probably worth while to mention that in our Western Civilization, we read from left to right, so our eyes are used to scanning images the same way. Compositional elements might be very different for Chinese, Japanese or Arabic people.

So, in these three examples, I have attempted to dissect the compositional elements and explain how they contribute to the visual strength of these images.