Ryu: Darling, please compose yourself

As you do, I started my research with Google.

“composition photography rules”

Apparently there are more than 3 of these rules and I’m as surprised as you do. I have no idea if these rules are taught at schools or maybe they only teach you couple of them if you attended a state school. Maybe there are more of these rules because I googled them and we all know that google is cheaper than state schools.

Big thanks to http://www.photographymad.com, http://www.ephotozine.com, http://www.digitalcameraworld.com, http://photoinf.com, and http://www.smashandpeas.com/ for the rules.

Here are the rules in no order of importance:

-Rule of Thirds





-Symmetry and Patterns






-Fill the frame

-Aspect ratio

-Avoid the middle

-Use diagnosis

-Space to move

-Creative with colours

-Breaking the rules

-Don’t cut off limbs

-Rule of odds

-Avoiding Mergers

As you can see, there are lot of them and some of them are bit repetitive. As you can probably imagine, I don’t know any sports photographer who thinks about these things while shooting. But, this is not to say that you should not study them because by the power of the almighty lord of darkness and of all things sports photography, some of you REALLY need to hit the books when it comes to composition. I’m not going to say who, but you know who you are. Pop quiz at the end of this post.

You have two hands (if you don’t, I’m sorry), you have ten fingers (if you don’t, I’m really sorry), please google them after school.

Since I didn’t goto photography school and my formal photography education comes solely from an elective at Hong Kong International School, I’ll have to show you how to compose. Please thank me because usually I bin all the bad shots from my shoots. But I did think about you guys while I was culling them and therefore I can do this post with a picture aid.

Here is my 8 step program into better compositioned life. Why 8? Because it’s a lucky number in China (I’m Japanese) and there just happened to be 8 photos to describe what went on in my head whilst composing the final shot.

Step 1.
Germany v Kazakhstan. Cold. I spotted a railing next to where the players will be coming out. I thought it was a good idea because I can use the “twist the camera to line up the frame with the line” technique and there was no one else there. It’s also rare that players come down the stairs when they enter the pitch. They usually go up.

Step1Step 2.

I decided that maybe it was a bit too much with all those lines. I also wasn’t too crazy with them background. I also realised that I could use this zoom thing on my lens. So I did and got this German lady coming down the stairs. Better, but not quite. The composition and not the German lady.


Step 3.
I thought the lines were too simple and by flooding the background with things, it would lessen the fact that the background was terrible. For some reason I started to get hot and bothered with the more lines so I zoomed out. Hooray for the zoom lens.


Step 4.
Now I’m back to where I started. I was getting line fever and I wanted to cram in as many as possible. By doing this I was getting unwanted elements on both sides of the frame, so called security people with bright yellow vests. Background still too noisy.


Step 5.
The subs were coming in. Which meant the starting 11 will be coming shortly. Which meant I’m panicking because my composition is terrible. I also realised at this point that I could move in a lot closer to the stairs. The closer I get, the more angle I can use and therefore if I shoot for the sky, I’ll get the lines + dark sky thus eliminating my noisy background problem. Obviously, a moment of genius.


Step 6.
Beautiful simple lines. Beautiful plain background.


Step 7.
Why they have these pesky children come out of the tunnel with the players is beyond me. They ruin everything. They obviously ruined my composition because to get rid of them, I had to shoot at more of an angle, leaving the player’s head and a bit of his shoulder. In hindsight, if I shifted a bit towards the left, I would have had two equal boxes of lines and could have put two players inside each of them. But obviously, I was still in massive panic mode and I wanted to just frame one player in the middle box. Which wasn’t possible because when they come in they are usually tightly packed. The right side of the frame still manage to have crap. Fail.


Step 8.
Low and behold, when I was about to throw in the towel, the manager comes down the stairs and I’m ready for him. 3 lines, plain background, and head towards me. Score.


It’s obvious that I didn’t give you what you wanted. “Where is the rule of the thirds?” you say. “Lines, but what is the significance of the lines?” you say. “You cut of his limbs. Why oh Lord, why?” you say. I understand. What I try to demonstrate has not much to do about following the rules. Rather, imagining how the shot will be shot and how to get that shot. It’s akin to progression of a quarterback after a snap. You check down to the first one, no he’s covered. The second, no he forgot to tie his shoe laces. Third, he’s wide open and BAM! If this analogy makes no sense to you, it’s like a footballer and decision he takes after he gets the ball. Pass, dribble, shoot, or fall down? As you run through your options in your head and with the test shots (let’s all thank digital for this), you will be able to reach the composition you want. With this particular shot, I was adamant in using those rails as lines. Yes, rule number 83. So I tried different angles, different focal length, different number of lines, different background, and other different things to incorporate the lines into the shot.

Therefore the lesson here is not about the rules, but the process you will use in order to apply these rules into your composition. Sports is instinctual. If not instinctual, it is a product of training of repetitive movements which subsequently becomes muscle memory. Same goes for sports photography and composition. The more you shoot with intent, the more you will react rather than having to think about it. The key here is intent. If you’re not thinking about composition, you will never learn composition. Be very aware of how you want to compose and go down the list of things you need to do in order to achieve it. If you have to waste an entire match composing one specific shot, do it. You’ll learn so much from that one much then you would have learned shooting crisp well lit non-artsy photos we all love.

Pop quiz: Name me 5 rules that I gave you in the beginning and bust a rhyme with them.


*Please Read Below*
Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by supporting us on Patreon and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.

4 thoughts on “Ryu: Darling, please compose yourself

  1. Well I just expend 2.000 bucks in a photo school and reading this post, I get all the info for free means “I lost all the money”,THANKS SUPER PHOTOGRAPHER HERO !!!!!!

    1. Gus, think about it like you just gave that 2000 bucks to a charity. See, you don’t feel so bad anymore do you? But in all seriousness, it’s good to goto a school. For some people, they absorb a lot more in that type of setting than learning it on your own. So, make the best out of that 2000 dollars. :)

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