Composition and angle in photography

Just before Sam started college, I bought her two photography books (okay, that’s in addition to all the other photography books I’d been buying her for the past two years). One of them is… Ummm, this is the part where I stood up and started hunting for the book which I was sure I left in the Blue Room but which, surprisingly or not, wasn’t there. Doesn’t that happen to you? Just when you need to check something for details, you can’t locate it. But when you aren’t looking for it, it’s just lying there. Like my key ring. Most of the time, I know where it is but just when I’m about to step out of the house, it’s nowhere. Yah, yah, yah. I know, it’s called burara. Whatever.

I was talking about the photography books I gave Sam, wasn’t I? Right. Anyway, I was reading one of them the other day — at least I’m sure that the book is about composition — and the author provided several examples to show how composition can make or break a shot. He has several suggestions too that sent me on an exercise session. Not gym exercise but photo exercise. See, in photography, there is very little you can learn if you just stick to books. You really have to digest what you’ve read and APPLY the principles by taking photos.

Okay, so composition means what to include and exclude from the frame. With our dining area as my subject, I composed four photos using a wide-angle lens. dining-room-furniture4

What to include? The dining table and chairs naturally. And the features of the room which include wide windows and double doors that open to the lanai. All the objects that needed to be included are included in the photo above. But the symmetry is all wrong. All the colors — orange curtains and dark furniture — are all on the left side while too much white is on the right side. dining-room-furniture4

So, I took another photo. Was it really necessary to include the whole door? Not really. So, perhaps, this is a better shot.

But it kinda looked boring to me. dining-room-furniture4

I went a few steps up the stairs and started shooting from there. I now have this third photo which is very similar to the second except for the angle. Instead of the very common eye level shot, this one shows off the features of the furniture better. The round base of the dining table is even visible.

Good enough?

But. BUT. There is an adjacent breakfast counter. And it’s as much a part of the dining area as the dining table and chairs are. dining-room-furniture4

Comes now the fourth photo where part of the breakfast counter is visible.

Obviously, intention is a huge factor when composing a photo. If my intention were simply to show the dining table and chairs, even if I had totally left out the doors, the photo would be sufficient. But since I wanted a photo that represented the entire dining are, I had to include everything. And by everything, I not only mean the architectural features like the windows and the doors but everything related to dining. Naturally, the breakfast counter (or, at least, a portion of it considering that it is not a main feature of the dining area) had to be included.

More examples? Click on the link to page 2 and I’ll try to relate composition with angle.

A couple of weeks ago, we were in Eastwood City and we had coffee and dessert at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Speedy said he just wanted coffee, Sam saw the pistachio sans rival cake on the display case and said I should order a slice for her father. Sans Rival is Speedy’s favorite cake in the whole wide world. Despite the earlier pronouncement that he didn’t want any dessert, Speedy was the first to finish his cake. He took the next two photos too.

Speedy is not a food blogger but I suppose that having a food blogger for a wife has affected his perception of composition and angle in photography. Pistachio sans rival cake

First, a photo that shows the entire slice of cake. While an overhead shot might be good when photographing a whole cake, it doesn’t work when the subject is only a slice which has to be photographed obliquely. It’s a perfect shot really — it shows that the cake has three layers and there is icing between each layer. By taking the photo from a slightly higher position, the color of the pistachio nuts is distinct and clear. Pistachio sans rival cake

But in food photography, there is nothing like details. Speedy supplemented the first photo with a second showing the pistachio nuts up close. Like I said, the second photo is a supplement. The first was perfect by itself.

Now, for the last example — a book shelf. How do you take photo of a shelf full of books? book-shelf1

Here’s a full frontal shot. It shows the shelf and the books so, in terms of composition, it’s complete.

But it looks flat. book-shelf1

I moved a little to the right and included the wall clock to add more interest to the photo.

But they look like they don’t belong together. They’re two unrelated objects (they’d be related if I was taking a photo of the entry study but I wasn’t) and combining them is like trying to mix oil with water. book-shelf1

So, I made use of leading lines. Straight lines that draw the eyes toward the subject. I mounted the camera on a tripod and positioned it at the same height as the shelf. Better? I think so. Except that it gives the impression that the height of the shelf is eye level. It isn’t. It’s a bit higher. book-shelf1

This is the shelf as I see it. A bit higher than my eyes. This photo works best for me although you might have other preferences, and neither you nor I will be right or wrong. Remember, you may successfully execute every composition and angle trick in the book but a photograph’s success still depends a lot on the eye of the beholder.


  1. lemon says

    I see Amy Tan there in the bookshelf, I love her books.

    I agree, your house is something else. Everything goes together.

    Re: wall clock? really, that’s from Dapitan? wow.

  2. rhodora says

    The last shelf photo for me, is perfect. It gives the impression that the shelf indeed is a bit higher than eye level. It’s really nice to learn something new each day. :)

  3. gigi says

    that is an awfully small slice of sans rival! i bet bitin si mr speedy. i would be, i love this cake too!!! a nightmare to make but worth every effort.

  4. says

    Aha! I noticed that you have Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”—great book!

    Speedy’s photos are also exquisite! Maybe your being a good photographer has already rubbed off on him.

    And about the bookshelf…I, too like the last one…it is at an angle and is not frontal and flat looking.

    As usual, thanks for the great photos! It is good to learn through your examples.

  5. says

    Andeeeng, the wall clock was a lucky find in Dapitan.

    Rhodora, ako din motto ko yan. Learn something new everyday. When I run out of books, I rummage through the books in the girls’ rooms and presto! New reading materials.

    Gigi, LOL Ok na yun. Friendlier on his diet kuno. hehehehe

    Crisma, have you tried books by Murakami and Paulo Coelho?

  6. says

    paulo coelho is a great read! also, isabel allende… you have a very beautiful house, ms. sassy. great taste in decoration and interior design, too. got class!!!

  7. says

    I am familiar with Coelho because of “The Alchemist” … however, I have yet to acquaint myself with Murakami. Thanks for bringing this up. While reading Coelho, oh how I wished that I had the same dexterity with language as he had…ang galing!

  8. mamsi says

    I love the Look of your home Ms. Connie…. i think that a furniture piece would look nice between the windows and french doors … Maybe a buffet table or something similar…

  9. mamsi says

    Yes, i think that a china cabinet will look Nice in that space… Kasi, you already have a breakfast counter on the opposite side…

  10. says

    some people always wonder why i take so many frames of the same subject what they dont understand it am actually “seeing” different angles, different frames….

  11. carmen factora says

    Belated Happy Birthday, Connie! (just read that in another blog) The best to you and your family always! Does that make you a co-Libran? That explains so many things…James Michener (please tell me he’s somewhere in that bookshelf), French doors, crown molding in the library…Great home! Very well thought out shots. I’m tempted to eat Speedy’s sans rival right off this screen!