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Improve your composition by using obstacles

I’m sure many of you photographers reading this post can sympathize with the plight of ever-maneuvering ourselves and our cameras around so that we can omit any obstacles from our frame. Whether we’re contorting in some undiscovered yoga position or have our tripods defying gravity with the way they’re being balanced, we go to great lengths to remove obstacles. And in a lot of cases, it’s probably warranted. Why have them there? They’ll only serve as distractions, right? Well…. not so fast. What if you simply couldn’t get past omitting an obstacle? What if the only way for you to get the photo you’re aiming for requires you to include obstacles? I don’t think the answer is to give up and walk away, although I’m sure we’re all guilty of taking that path once or twice in the past. When such a scenario pops up for me, I take it on as a challenge and have learned to leverage these obstacles and incorporate them into my photos.

Now, don’t take this as me advocating for lazy photography. Quite the contrary. I’m not giving license to have sloppy edges and awkward bisections of lines throughout the frame. I don’t think it ever looks good when a random collection of branches protrudes from the top of the frame out of thin air. General compositional rules still apply. What I want to inspire and challenge you to do is find creative ways to embrace obstacles and incorporate them into your photo.

A few things to consider when setting off on this challenge are your camera lens focal length and your vantage point with respect to your subject (and, by extension, your obstacle(s)). Most of the time, I find greater results when I use an ultra-wide angle lens, like my Sony 16-35mm or Sony 16mm Fisheye. Additionally, it helps to approach the scene from a low or angled vantage point. This allows me to get really close and accentuate or warp the obstacle so that it becomes a part of the scene.

Finally, there are times when the obstacles actually make up the starring role for your photo. When you’re fortunate enough to come across these scenes, you owe it to yourself and your viewers to find a way to make everything look compelling. You really want to captivate and pull your viewers in. The key is to always identify the most effective way that your obstacles interact with the larger scene as a whole. You have to learn how to identify ways to let one complement the other. This takes time and lots of experimentation but once you start appreciating and embracing what obstacles have to offer, you’ll begin seeing things in a whole new way.

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