Photography composition is one of the keys to making your photos stand out.
Do you find that when you look back at your photos that although they are exposed correctly and you got all the settings right they still lack a wow factor?
I know that was me many times and I know it’s a problem a lot of travel photographers have. So how can you avoid coming back from a beautiful location but finding your photos aren’t quite interesting enough?
Composition. Learning how best to use composition in your photography will straight away improve your photos. Anyone can take a picture of a scene, but the harder skill is composing an image that is truly interesting.
All the photography composition tips below are designed to help you think more about composition and then help you improve how you use composition in your photography.
What is composition?
Composition in photography is how you arrange the elements in your photo to tell a story or to draw prominence to the point of interest. Good composition can help average photos become great photos.
If you use composition correctly you can take the scene you see with your eye and turn it into a compelling photograph. Composition is a hard skill to master but if you follow the tips below you will start to see an improvement in your photography.
The rules of thirds
It’s likely you have already heard of this as its one of the most popular photography composition tips, it is the most well known and commonly referenced rule of composition. A big reason for that is it’s simple and easy to follow. Simply divide the camera frame into thirds, with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines (think naughts and crosses).
Now you have your grid (most cameras will let you have this on your camera screen) place key aspects of the image along one of these lines. For beginners just by following the rule of thirds can dramatically improve their pictures. Instead of sticking your subject in the dead centre, following this rule means the viewer gets to see more than the subject and it allows their eye to move around the image.
Lines are a powerful composition tool because they help the viewer navigate your photo. Leading lines are part of a concept called visual weight. This is all about where the eye goes when it first looks at a photograph. If there is the point of interest and not much else, then the eye will go straight to it, and the viewer will probably then probably find the image quite dull.
Using lines helps lead the viewer through a photograph. Instead of going straight to the point of interest and then leave, lines can be used to help the eye flow through other elements of the image towards the main point of interest. Using lines in your composition can help you take more interesting photographs.
These photography composition tips are about making your photographs more interesting. You don’t want to solely rely on just the subject of your photograph. As attractive as that subject might be, by itself it will struggle to hold the viewer’s attention.
Having something in the foreground is a clever way to help a viewer navigate through your picture and towards your point of interest. Use a foreground element to help take the viewer on a journey through your photograph. Foreground elements work best as simple objects that don’t act like a complete distraction from your focal point.
Rule of odd numbers
One of the more interesting techniques is the rule of odd numbers. Studies have shown that we prefer to look at odd numbers more than even numbers. The studies say we feel more at ease looking at a photo with an odd number of elements or subjects in it.
The exact reason why this is the case is unclear. Maybe even-numbered objects look too symmetrical and that comes off as very cold and cynical but whatever the reason is, experiment with using odd numbers.
Find a point of interest
If you get your camera out and line up a shoot and it doesn’t have a point of interest then you shouldn’t take the picture. Photography is not a case of recording what you see. Photography is a form of storytelling, and if you don’t have a point of interest, then you won’t be telling much of a story.
A point of interest gives you something to frame your image around. By choosing the right focal point, you will be able to bring much more interest to the scene your photographing.
Something that might surprise you is the fact that triangles are everywhere. The key to this composition tip is spotting them and then being able to use them in your photo. To find an effective triangle look for 3 points of interest in your picture and then create a way of linking them together by making a triangle.
In the same way that lines work in composition triangles help lead the eye through a picture towards your main focal point.
So far, a lot of these composition tips have focused on what you can add to your picture to help compliment your focal point. This tip is all about what you leave out, and why. If you have a striking point of interest, a famous landmark, a dramatic mountain, or simply a portrait, then negative space can help to emphasise it.
Negative space gives somewhere for the user to ‘rest’ their eyes. With such a commanding point of interest, negative space will also add some contrast to your shot. Negative space can be a clear sky or calm water. If you are using it in a portrait, it can be a simple plain background.
Using frames is a great way to compose a photograph, and it’s also a smart way to take a unique photo of a common scene. As with so many composition tips using frames helps to navigate the viewer through your photo towards the focal point.
Frames are everywhere for photographers to use. Doorways, gates, windows, arches, and even a group of trees in the right formation can all be used as frames. This framing method takes the users eye through the frame and towards the focal point.
Patterns in a landscape or patterns in a scene are another strong way to aid your composition. Spotting interesting patterns and placing them, so they lead towards your point of interest helps take the viewer on a journey through your photograph.
Once again this tip is about giving the viewer more to look without making the photo look cluttered or too busy. Subtle patterns can draw the viewers attention into the photograph and allow them to make their way to the main focal point of your photo.
A common problem for photographers is turning the 3D view they see with their eye into a 2D image. By adding elements to your photo that conveys the depth of the scene you can bring a 3D feel to your image.
If you can place an element in the foreground, it can help to add depth to your image. In this example, the flagpole acts as the foreground element and helps illustrate the distance between that and the city skyline. It helps to add that 3D feel to a photograph and stops the image from looking flat.
Take your time
Where possible take as much time as you can to fully scope out your location. How do you want your photo to look? Use that time to understand how you want your picture to look and feel. Yes, there are times you will be under time pressure, such as changing light but where possible take your time to best plan your composition.
In this example, I was rushing to get to the Brooklyn Bridge and didn’t take my time lining up this shot. When I returned to the UK, I was horrified to find its a popular shot because the empire state can fit right in the gap in the arch of the bridge. If I had taken a little more tip to move further along, I would have seen that and taken a far superior shot.
Keep it simple
A lot of these tips have been about adding elements to your photo, but sometimes it’s just as important as what you leave out. Avoid having unnecessary distractions in your photograph. If there is an element that is distracting from your main subject and doesn’t offer anything to the photo then take it out.
Pay particular attention to the corners of your photo. It is very easy to focus entirely on the main point of interest when shooting and completely missing some distracting elements on the edge of the photo.
Composition is one of the most important skills to turn a scene into a captivating photograph. There are a lot of tips here to help you with improving your composition, but there is one last tip that is always important in photography. Don’t be afraid to break the rules! Photography is a very personal skill so never be scared to put your own spin on a photograph.