photo composition tips
good and bad photo composition examples

Composition using shadow, camera, and tripodComposition using shadow
of photographer, camera, and tripod.


Learning a few good photo composition tips will have a big impact on making you a better photographer.

Some composition rules are made to be broken, but if you understand them, you'll have a lot more success in taking pictures with good composition.


1. What's The Point

What do you want to capture in your photograph? Decide ahead of time what you want your photo to be about. It may be capturing the emotion of a person.

Alternatively, you may want to emphasize geometric shapes or perhaps colors. Your picture may be to create a photographic record of a special event.You may be trying to capture a beautiful landscape or striking architecture. You are the creator of the photo so you want to control what it emphasizes.

Composition Tip Photo - Change the Camera Perspective

2. Change Your Perspective

In the first photo above, all 3 statues are equally emphasized. I stood farther back from the subject and zoomed in with the telephoto lens. Now look at the photo on the right. What a difference when I move closer to the statues and a little to my right!

I used a wide angle view with the camera lens. That causes the farther away statues to appear even more distant.

The two people in the back are about the same size, but the girl and her book are more prominent. Different angles and different distances of the same subject can completely change the impact that a photo will have on the viewer. For an article on photo composition in nature photography, click here: Nature Photography Composition


3. Fill The Frame

A common photos mistake is to keep extra "stuff" in your camera frame that doesn't add to the effect you want to achieve. Use your zoom lens or get closer to eliminate distractions that take away from your subject.

Crop the Vacation Photo to Get a Better Composition

In this vacation photo above in the Canadian Rockies, moving just a little closer eliminated the bright and distracting sidewalk in the left photo.  The right photo is simpler.

4. Look For Lines

Using lines is a great way to achieve good photo composition.  Diagonal line and curves that naturally lead you eyes into the photo are called leading lines.  Lines within your picture cause your eye to move from one place in your picture to another. This makes it more interesting to look at.

Photo Composition Tips - Try a Vertical and a Horizontal Orientation

5. Pick The Right Format

Look through your viewfinder with your camera in a horizontal and then a vertical position.

For the photo above, vertical looks much better. 

In the Horizontal pose there is too much space with distracting objects in the background.


6. Watch The Horizon

Avoid a crooked Horizon Composition


Using the LCD screen on the back of your camera is awkward and makes it tough to keep your horizon level.

It is very noticeable with beach portraits. Try looking through your viewfinder if possible and keeping it level.

I break this rule frequently when I am shooting casuals of high schools seniors.

In this high school senior portrait, I shot at an angle and it enhanced the composition because of the interaction with the angles of the railroad tracks.

Create Diagonals in Your Photo's Composition

Notice where I placed the most important part of the photograph, the young model's head.

The tilt of the camera sets her body as a diagonal in the image.


7. Place Your Center of Interest

Often it's not a good idea to place the center of interest in the center of the photo. 

Try using the popular Rule of Thirds when it's appropriate. It is often a great way to make your picture better.

8. Can You Frame It?

Are there opportunities that allow you to naturally "frame" your subject? 

Look for natural or man-made objects that can be included in the photo.

Try including an element in the side, top or bottom of your viewfinder that partially surrounds your subject. 

Use a Framing Device Within Your composition to Surround Your Main Subject

In the photo of the cruise ship the palm tree acts as a frame around the outside area of the composition.

The blue of the sky and the blue of the tropical water also surround the ship.

On this page called: How to Take Horse Pictures I used the fence in the background and the grasses in the foreground to frame in my cuddling subjects (it's the third photo down).


9. Create Depth

This is a photo composition tip that can really separate your photos from the average photographer.

Compose your picture with objects at several distances from your camera.

This creates a path or a direction for your eye to follow.

Use Objects at different Distances Within Your Photo Composition to Create Depth

In this fun photo taken on the deck of a cruise ship, our eye can travel from the appealing cool drink, of the girl's toes, to the safety railing, to the small tropical island in the distance.

What's amusing right now about this vacation photo is that as I am writing this article back here at home, it's 20 degrees outside.

The wind is howling and there is about 10 inches of snow on the ground.

10. Keep It Balance

Photos will look lopsided if there is a lot of subject matter on one side of the photo. This is one of the things you learn to sense as you gain more experience. Use something small to counterbalance on the empty side of you photograph.

I've learned a lot from reading printed books on photography compositions as well.  

I encourage you to consider some of the better written books available on Amazon as well as the newest books my friends over at Digital Photography School sell.

Summary of Photo Composition Tips

These principles of composition in photography should be used as guidelines, not as absolute rules that must be followed. What is so exciting now about digital photography is our ability to try many tricks and techniques with no downside.

You get to make a quick assessment of your composition technique. If you make a mistake in your photography composition, you can delete and keep on shooting. Study the photo composition examples of other photographers.


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Shoot more photos.

Practice your photo composition.

Watch less TV

Bruce


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