Blackie Spit Park, White Rock, British ColumbiaOne of the most challenging aspects of taking a good photo is getting a composition that allows you to show the viewer what you are seeing. There are a few things that you can do to compose better shots, such as rule of thirds and other tools like that, but those rules of composition are not meant to lock you in. So what do you need to do in order to not just take a picture of a nice subject, but also make that subject appear as it does to you when you take the photo?
One of the first ways to make your subject stand out is depth of field. Controlling depth of field is something that a (D)SLR camera gives you far more control over, even with basic kit lenses. On a compact camera the best way to use depth of field to isolate your subject is to have your a fare distance from the background, or to zoom in closer to the subject, if your lens can go into the 100mm (35mm equivalent) range or more. If you have a (D)SLR, then you can shoot at a wide aperture to limit the depth of field, and as noted for a compact camera, by using a longer focal length, along with the narrow depth of field. So if you have a typical kit lens (one that come with the Nikon D40/D60/D3000/D5000 or Canon Rebel XS/XSi/T1i) the 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 VR or IS, then your best bet is to zoom into 55mm and move as close to your subject as you can, while keeping the aperture at F5.6, that is the smallest aperture you can use at 55mm. There are disadvantages of doing the above of course, because it means you need to be in a location where the subject is not crowded. Another method that I use to isolate my subject is position in the frame. There are times when you want to have a greater depth of field than the widest aperture can give you, such as if you want the mountains in the background to be in-focus, along with the family or friend who is standing in the foreground. The best way to achieve this effect is to step back away from your subject or shoot at a wider angel, such as at 35mm or 24mm.
What about moving subjects such as birds and animals? If your subject is moving using a wider aperture is a good way to capture the subject. Moving subjects are far more difficult due to the nature of the fact that you may not be able to control the distance to and from the background, or even what the background is depending on the subject. One of the best ways to get your subject framed the way you want is to wait for it to come into the frame. Now for a bird in flight or a running deer that may not be very simple, even if you learn the creatures standard pattern of movement.
I'll cover more thoughts, that I have about composition, in my next entry later this week.