Photography 101: Composition

We’re half way through our series, Photography 101 Back to Basics. Remember, whether you’re a professional photographer, a photography enthusiast, or simply own a camera, we all play by the same basic photography principles.

So far we’ve covered six of twelve basics:

The past six months we’ve focused primarily on those basics that directly affect exposure – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. These, in turn, directly affect the basics of depth of field and white balance. Starting with this month’s post, we’re going to shift gears and begin talking about a few basics that occur primarily outside of the camera – composition, lighting, focus, lenses, flash, and post processing.

The reality is all of the technical aspects of a photograph can be on point but if the composition is off, at best the photograph will be boring and at worst it just won’t work. Put another way, poor composition can make a great subject boring and good composition can transform a mediocre photo into a wonderful image.

There are literally dozens of composition basics or “rules” – rule of thirds, use diagonals, avoid the middle, fill the frame, odds versus evens, etc. I’m only going to mention the five that I think have the most potential to move your photos from mediocre to fantastic.


Change your point of view

The fact that most people are creatures of habit impacts our photography in huge ways. If I were to look through ten of your photos at random, would they all have been taken from the same eye level point of view? The next time you’re making photographs, get down below your subject, get above it, view it through something else, from the side, from the back, change your lens focal length, shoot wide, zoom in, use your 50mm lens, force yourself to view your subject from an unconventional point of view.

Photography 101: Composition


Tell a story

A picture is worth a thousand words. So tell a full-blown story in every photograph. Be conscious of not only that which is within your frame, but that which is outside your frame, too. Begin noticing how others’ photos make you feel or think. Use composition to tell a story in a single image.

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Lines, lines, lines

Our eyes are naturally drawn along lines. By strategically placing lines in your photos, you actually affect the way others view your photos. Diagonal lines are especially effective. However, straight, curvy, radial, and zigzagging lines will all enhance your photos.

Photography 101: Composition


Patterns, textures, and colors

Using patterns, textures, and colors is an excellent way to take your photos to the next level. Whenever you juxtapose different patterns or textures or colors it increases a photo’s appeal to the viewer.

Photography 101: Composition


Break the rules

Above all else, remember that it’s okay to break the rules. Some of my favorite photos are completely “wrong” in that they break all of the composition rules. But they still work.

Photography 101: Composition


So spend some time looking at others’ photos and figuring out why a certain photo works or doesn’t work. And then start experimenting with composition in your own photos. The way you frame a photo, position the subject, choose a specific focal length, and choose a background can make all the difference.