Composition Basics: Don’t Cut People Off at a Joint
By Jack Berglund
Like most rules, composition ‘rules’ are made to be broken. Many really great photos break at least one of these ‘rules’ but very few of them break all of them. Having an understanding of the base guidelines will improve your photography greatly in the short term and somewhat counter intuitively help you be more creative in the long run, as you learn to selectively break the rules to add meaning and impact. In this series of composition basics, we’ll cover the most common rules to get you started.
One simple rule when photographing people is: “don’t cut them off at a joint”. Often you don’t want or need the whole of a person in a shot but where you cut them off has a significant affect on how the photo looks. Cutting someone off at a joint most often makes them look dismembered and out of balance. If you need to crop a person, have a three quarter length shot with the photo cutting off at the thigh or calf not the ankle or knee. Similarly, avoid the wrist, elbow or neck.
To illustrate, here are three crops of the same good looking couple at a wedding:
|Original crop half way up the thigh:
|Cropped at the waste and wrist
|Cropped at the neck!
I hope you agree that the waste and neck crop make the couple look dismembered and out of sorts. Of course, if that’s a look you’re going for, you can use this to your advantage. Remember, as F D Roosevelt once said, “Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.”