Many people consider central composition boring. This is what I have to say: cliche. If used correctly, central composition is my favorite. There is a reason that many photographers start their advice for beginners with the phrase “don’t put your subject in front”. We need to understand the reasons central composition is so difficult to see. It is quite simple.
Everything begins here
Meet Joshua. Joshua is a man in his thirties. He’s your typical Joe. He is a man in his thirties with a wife and three children, two boys and one girl. Although he has only taken a few snaps with his smartphone, he has never been able to take professional photographs. He recently bought a camera for his family. He takes a picture of his youngest son and frames it. Tell me: Where do you see his son as an element of composition? Exactly. Dead center.
Although I don’t know why, central composition is the first decision one makes when creating a photograph. It takes a while before we can learn to place the subject in the wrong direction, and it only then that we are able to subconsciously do this. It could be that one expects the camera’s focus to be in the middle of the frame, or because they expect to find something there. It is because it is the intersection point of all lines that run from one corner to the other. I don’t know.
This is what I know for certain. It is the first thing we learn and it takes a lot of effort and time to learn again. This is why the popular saying “Don’t put your subject in front” is so well-known. Your photograph will instantly stand out from the rest and look more professional and creative if it is placed near the right or left third of the frame. Modern cameras have these guides built in, and others, I’ve heard, compose the image automatically by recognising the subject’s face within the frame and cropping it accordingly. Scary.
The Good Bit
Problem or solution? Many people (you might have noticed how many have taken up photo in the past decade or so) now avoid central layout, it is the best choice. The rule of thirds is a well-known concept. Many people don’t know how to correctly compose the subject in its middle. Although I won’t claim to have mastered this skill, I am working hard to learn.
We all know the expression “less is more.” I recall talking to one my lecturers a few years back and he shared something I had been thinking about for some time. He stated that simplicity is something you must learn to love and appreciate. It’s like olives. Some people like olives. Others don’t get the value of them. But most people who love them didn’t like them at first. They had to learn to love them. It’s the same with composition. At first, it’s “oh! Look at that, and that!” and then it changes to “don’t feel, look.”
The simplest composition of all is central. It is less. In some cases, it may be greater. The central composition is usually calm, steady, and honest. You are effectively introducing your subject to the viewer by placing him in the middle. It’s…open, like “an open book”. It’s naked. It helps to emphasize the space around the subject, assuming that it is there in the first instance. As it becomes the thing that directs the viewer’s eyes towards the place you, the creator intended, it will also help to highlight the space. Ted Kozak’s portraits may be a good example.
Let me be clear, simplicity and, by extension central composition are two things many need to like. It doesn’t mean that you have to like it. You don’t have to grow up. Rather, you can grow sideways if that makes sense.
In praising your way of creating images, I’m being very subjective. I adore it. It suits me. I love negative space and my choices of moods, subjects, and locations. It could be described as a whisper of an emerging style. It is not something I use all the time. It would be boring and repetitive if I did. Curiously, I realized that I didn’t use this technique enough after I wrote the article and looked for images to support it. This type of composition requires me to work harder if I want to master it. Yet, I still use it. It might not suit your style or taste, but that is okay.
It is important to remember that central composition can be equated with simplicity but it does not have to be basic. I would say that composition is not a basic concept. It is something that you can improve upon and adapt throughout your career as a photographer or artist. But olives are olives and I will stick with them. But composition? I sure hope there’s more to come.