Tips for Better Photo Composition


Reproduced by kind permission of Chelmsford Camera Club.

How photographs are composed is a hotly debated topic. What's right? What's wrong? How can you learn better composition? It's fun to talk about, because the bottom line is that composition is subjective-there is no right or wrong.

With photo editing software, you can edit the composition of your digital photos in a variety of ways. But you still need to start with a well composed image.New ideas are often started by photographers doing things the "wrong" way. Look at the work of great photographers. Do they follow the rules of composition? More likely you'll find they have a style all their own.

If that's the case, how do you improve your own work, and develop your own style? There are things you can do to take better pictures. Here are a few suggestions:Pay attention to framing.

Nothing ruins a nice photo faster than distracting elements in the background. Don't get so focused on the photo's subject that you ignore what else is going on around them. Watch out for poles, trees and power lines, and look all the way around the edges of the frame, asking "Is this what I really want in my photo?"

Learn the Rule of Thirds.


One of the most popular rules of composition-the Rule of Thirds-dictates that you imagine the viewfinder is divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. This grid creates four intersection points. Place your subject where the lines intersect, instead of in the centre of the frame.

Example of the thirds

A well-composed photograph with the Rule of Thirds "grid" superimposed. (Photo: Colin Majury)

Every image has a foreground and a background. How you want people to view your picture determines what you do with the foreground and background. For example, zooming in, and choosing a large aperture setting, blurs the background while keeping your subject sharp.

This is a pleasing effect for portraits. Conversely, zooming out to a wide angle setting, and choosing a small aperture, allow you to show the subject and their surroundings in more equal focus. Have your subject prominent in the foreground, and use the background to tell more about the ubject or the environment.

Take photos from different angles.


Change your angle of view. Try kneeling, or even putting the camera on the ground. Climb a flight of stairs so you're higher than the subject you're photographing. Digital cameras with twist and tilt LCD screens are ideal for this. Changing angles provides a fresh perspective, and makes for a more dramatic photograph.

Look for elements in a scene that draw a viewer's eyes through the photo. A winding path, a row of telephone poles or even a line of chairs at the beach can serve as elements in a good photo.

Keep your eyes open for patterns in nature or man-made objects. Interesting photos can be made of the waves and patterns created by drifting snow, a flock of birds flying in formation or pipes stacked at a construction site.

Try getting in close.


Look for texture in the wrinkles of a face or the bark of a tree. Hands can say a lot about a person. Pay attention to the details.

Cropping brings a photo to life.


Whether you edit photos on your computer or produce them in a darkroom, you are no longer constrained by the standard 4 x 6, 5 x 7, or 8 x 10-inch formats. Look at each photo carefully and think about what you really want people to see and react to, then crop everything else away. Try some unusual shapes, like wide horizontals or narrow verticals.Remember: variety is the spice of photography.

Composition is only limited by your imagination.

Experiment, have fun, and keep learning!