Do you find yourself struggling to find the right angle? Unsure whether to crop something out or leave it in? When you first start taking photos, it is composing your image which can feel the most daunting.
You know what you want to photograph. It is right there in front of you. But the challenge is to capture it in a strong and visually interesting way.
In this article I will take you through some easy to implement composition tips. Keep these in mind when you are shooting and your images will certainly improve. Practice and it will get easier to create images worth sharing.
1. Have a clear subject
This might sound obvious. Yet it is very common to overlook this when starting to take photographs.
Ask yourself—what is the main thing I want the viewer to look at in this photograph? Then eliminate any extra distractions.
Don’t try to capture the entire landscape scene in front of you. Instead compose your image to focus on an interesting tree. Or, a group of animals in the foreground.
Make that your subject. The landscape then becomes the setting which tells the story of the subject.
2. The Rule of Thirds
You probably won’t find a guide to photography composition which omits mentioning the Rule of Thirds.
Think of your image divided into an equal grid of nine boxes. You will have two horizontal and two vertical lines which cut the frame into three in each direction.
The idea is to ensure your key points of interest lie where these lines intersect. That’s it.
Imagine the grid when you are framing your images. It will force you to think more consciously about where you are placing individual elements.
You can use the rules of thirds by placing your horizon line on one of the horizontal lines. Or, when you are taking a portrait put the subject’s eyes along the horizontals, or one eye on the intersection.
It should be taken as a guide, more than a rule. But it can be useful when you are unsure where to start.
More complex grids for composition can be found by exploring dynamic symmetry.
3. Use the foreground to frame your subject
One way to keep the viewer’s attention within an image is to find something in the foreground to create a frame around your subject.
Some foliage from a tree can be positioned along the top or sides of the frame. Doorways, windows or arches are also excellent devices to use. Take your image looking through one and create a frame within a frame view.
It works best when the framing elements are darker than the subject. Avoid bright areas on the edge of the frame, as they can be distracting.
4. Use leading lines
Leading lines is a way to draw the eye into or across an image. The viewer is given clear guidance on how to engage with the photograph. Placed well they add a dynamic quality.
There are natural leading lines which we encounter daily. You may already use this technique without even realizing.
The easiest example to think of is looking along a street or a path. The lines created by the road and the buildings will direct the eye along them. If you have a point of interest at the end of the lines, then this will naturally be the center of attention.
The winding of a river, a set of stairs going up a wall, or somebody’s outstretched arm all work to create lines and help the composition of your photographs.
5. Look for balance
The eye seeks and is attracted to balance in a composition. Think not only about your main subject, but also about the relationships between it and different elements.
The main subject you are shooting will often need something else to balance it. Another person or another object which is not quite as important. Position the secondary point of interest in an opposing position in the frame.
Balance can also be achieved through symmetry. Work with natural symmetries when you find them. A good example is a classical building placed perfectly centered. This is simple and visually powerful.
6. Give your subjects some room
A good composition also requires that you consider what is happening in your image. Think of it as some visual storytelling.
This is especially important when photographing people. But, use the same idea for animals and other moving subjects.
If a person is looking or facing to the side, then give them some negative space to look into. Generally, you want more space in front, than behind the person. It can feel odd or cramped if your subject is looking straight into the edge of the frame.
Similarly, give a moving subject some room to move into. It shows where they are heading and looks more natural.
7. Use triangles
A triangle is the simplest shape that can be created. And, our brains love to group things together and find patterns, so will naturally hone in on them.
Triangles can be formed with lines in the image or by having three elements which suggest a triangular shape. It can get complex too. It does not have to be just one triangle.
No matter how they are placed, triangles will create diagonal lines. These diagonal connections or lines create a dynamism and interest in an image. The eye will bounce back and forth from element to element, or be naturally lead from one to the other.
8. Fill the frame
Collections of small objects, with messy or not easily defined edges are perfectly suited to this. Think of a pile of ropes and fishing nets, or a dense covering of colorful autumn leaves on the ground.
The viewer can immerse themselves fully in the details of the subject. Colors and textures can be appreciated without the eye being drawn away.
I hope this makes you feel better prepared and confident to go out and start creating some striking new images.
There’s nothing to stop you. No fancy new gear required. You can work with exactly what you already own and still be improving your shots.
Pause, take a moment to consider your framing before you hit the shutter button. Experiment and try out different guidelines with the same scene.
Tell us in the comments which of these tips you found most helpful. And, don’t forget to share this article if you think others will enjoy it too.