Understanding Composition in Photography

Understanding Composition in Photography

So you posted a picture in a photography Facebook group, and someone comments on it, “Hey great composition!” You tell them thanks, but your actually confused and really have no idea what composition means. The art of photography is not always just art. Like some people will say “Art is in the eye of the beholder”....sure. However, a good photograph is also technically good as well as artistic. When all the elements of creating a good photograph come together so perfectly. Composition plays a huge roll in a great photo. Here are 8 tips to help you better understand composition, and how it can help you improve your skills.

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Simplify The Scene

When you look at a scene with your eyes, your brain quickly picks out subjects of interest. But the camera doesn’t discriminate – it captures everything in front of it, which can lead to a cluttered, messy picture with no clear focal point. What you need to do is choose your subject, then select a focal length or camera viewpoint that makes it the center of attention in the frame. You can’t always keep other objects out of the picture, so try to keep them in the background or make them part of the story.

Fill The Frame

When you’re shooting a large-scale scene it can be hard to know how big your subject should be in the frame, and how much you should zoom in by. In fact, leaving too much empty space in a scene is the most widespread compositional mistake. It makes your subject smaller than it needs to be and can also leave viewers confused about what they’re supposed to be looking at. To avoid these problems you should zoom in to fill the frame, or get closer to the subject in question.

Aspect Ratio

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and take every picture with the camera held horizontally. Try turning it to get a vertical shot instead, adjusting your position or the zoom setting as you experiment with the new style. You can often improve on both horizontal and vertical shots by cropping the photo later.

Avoid The Middle (Artistic)

When you’re just starting out, it’s tempting to put whatever you’re shooting right in the center of the frame. However, this produces rather static, boring pictures. One of the ways to counteract this is to use the Rule of Thirds, where you split the image up into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and try to place your subject on one of these imaginary lines or intersections.

Leading Lines

A poorly composed photograph will leave your viewers unsure about where to look, and their attention might drift aimlessly around the scene without finding a clear focal point. However, you can use lines to control the way people’s eyes move around the picture. 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 around the frame, leading you towards the main subject.

Lines exist everywhere, in the form of walls, fences, roads, buildings and telephone wires. They can also be implied, perhaps by the direction in which an off-centre subject is looking.


Don’t just concentrate on your subject – look at what’s happening in the background, too. This ties in with simplifying the scene and filling the frame. You can’t usually exclude the background completely, of course, but you can control it. You’ll often find that changing your position is enough to replace a cluttered background with one that complements your subject nicely.

Creative With Colors

Bright primary colours really attract the eye, especially when they’re contrasted with a complementary hue. But there are other ways of creating colour contrasts – by including a bright splash of colour against a monochromatic background, for example. You don’t need strong colour contrasts to create striking pictures.

Breaking The Rules

Photo composition is a little like a visual language – you can use it to make your pictures pass on a specific message. However, just as we sometimes use the written word to create a deliberately jarring effect, we can do the same with photos by breaking with standard composition conventions.

I’d love to hear your comments on composition. Do you struggle with understanding it? Did this post help you? Let me know below!

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