Composition describes the intentional placement of every element in a photograph. Some beginner photographers have a natural eye for light and framing a photograph, taking good shots often by coincidence. However, once you truly understand composition you’ll be able to create great shots out of every subject, location, and circumstance.
Below are some basic tips to help make your composition more intentional:
- Simplify the scene – Choose your main subject and make it the center of the image. This doesn’t mean it needs to be in the actual center of the image but you need to make sure nothing else in the scene distracts the viewer from the main subject. So be selective with your background and allow it to compliment your main subject.
- Fill the frame – Leaving too much empty space in a scene is one of the most widespread composition mistakes. It makes your subject smaller than it needs to be and can also leave people confused about what they’re supposed to be looking at. To avoid these problems either move closer or zoom in to fill the frame with your main subject.
- Avoid the center – When you’re starting your photography journey try and avoid putting your main subject in the center of your frame. See the ‘rule of thirds’ for a good guide on where to place your subject.
- Aspect ratio – Consider both landscape and portrait orientations when you’re composing your image. Adjust your position or change your zoom / distance to the subject to experiment with different compositions.
- Rule of thirds – The rule of thirds is the photography term where you split the image up into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Try to place your subject on one of these imaginary lines or intersections. This can work as a good tool to get you to think in thirds, and as you gain more experience you can start relying more on your instincts. This will also give you an idea of where to place your main subject. Most cameras have a rule of thirds grid you can turn on in your settings.
- Leading lines – Good composition is about giving people somewhere to look in your image. Converging lines give a strong sense of perspective and three-dimensional depth, drawing you into an image. Curved lines can lead you on a journey through the image, leading you towards the main subject. Lines exist everywhere, they may be literal in the form of buildings, fences, rivers, roads, and telephone wires. They can also be implied, perhaps by the direction in which an off-center subject is looking.
- Diagonal lines – If you want to introduce a feeling of movement or uncertainty look for diagonal lines. Wider angles of view tend to be better at introducing diagonal lines as they increase your perspective.
- Give your main subject space to move – Sometimes the main subject of your image can produce a strong sense of movement and if so, you need to allow space for that subject to move. This effect is not just isolated to moving subjects, either. In the case of portraits the gaze of the subject can create a sense of movement that you need to allow space for. In both of these types of image always make sure you have a little more space ahead of the subject than behind it.
- Backgrounds – while you need to concentrate on your main subject you also need to consider the background and it’s relationship to it. You can’t usually exclude the background completely, but you can control it. Try changing your position to replace a cluttered background with one that complements your main subject. Or you may want to use a larger aperture (small F-stop) to blur the background (bokeh). This really depends whether the background is part of the story you’re trying to tell with the photo.
- Be creative with colors – Bright primary colors attract the eye, especially when they’re contrasted with a complementary color. You could also try and create color contrasts by including a bright splash of color on a monochromatic background. Scenes consisting almost entirely of a single color can also be very effective, such as softly lit landscapes. The key is to be really selective about how you isolate and frame your subjects to exclude unwanted colors.
- Focus on an eye – A portrait may be an exception where you place your main subject in the center of your frame. In this instance try and place the dominant eye in the center of the photo.
Remember the rules of composition are not hard and fast and can be broken. These are just a few ideas to allow you to frame your image in an intentional way.