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Video Tips: Composition Dos and Don’ts For Creating Better Images

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

How you compose or arrange your frame is one of the keys to creating interesting and compelling images. So learning some composition rules, and when to break them is essential.

Here are three short videos to help you see what to do and what to avoid in your composition.

Composition Mistakes to Avoid

Learn what not to do in this video including:

  • Double subjects
  • Looking out of the frame
  • Tangents (lines cutting through the subject)
  • Lazy composition

Beginner’s guide to composition

In this second video, Jordan from Sleeklens gives you four tips you can use to help elevate your photography composition.

The four tips covered include:

  1. Rule of thirds
  2. Balance
  3. Symmetry
  4. Leading Lines

9 Composition Tips

Finally, in this last video from COOPH you will see nine more composition tips based on the images of master photographer, Steve McCurry.

Do you have any other composition tips you would like to share? Please do so in the comments section below.

The post Video Tips: Composition Dos and Don’ts For Creating Better Images by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Use the Background to Create More Storytelling Images

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Sometimes you’re so focused on capturing the moment that you forget to pay attention to what’s in the background of your photo. When you look at your photos later, you realize that there are all sorts of distractions in the background. One way to overcome these distractions is to use the background to help with storytelling in your photo.

Even though “the moment” is likely the most important part of your photo, good moments always happen in a place. Use the background to show where your moment or story takes place.

Think of People as Characters

The first thing I recommend is thinking of the people in your photo as characters. When you’re going to take a picture of somebody ask, “Who is this character and what are they doing?” When you answer these questions you’ll be able to choose a good background to help tell that story.

Storytelling background 15

This is a photo of my son. I wasn’t thinking of him merely as my son, but rather as a “hiker.” Thinking of him as a hiker helped me choose a background that portrayed the story of a hiker.

Two Ways to Choose a Background

There are two ways to choose a background for your photo.

  1. You can begin with your character and then choose the right background for them.
  2. Or, you can begin with a good background and then look for a character to put into the scene.

Finding a Background that Matches Your Character

Keep in mind the two questions to ask yourself; “Who is this character and what are they doing?”

In this photo, the character is my infant son and he is sleeping in a carrier on my wife’s back. It’s a cute picture, but there is no way to tell from the background where we were when this took place.

Storytelling background 01

This is a nice photo, but the background doesn’t add to the story.

We were on a camping trip and I knew I wanted a collection of photos that would show that. So I repositioned myself to find a better perspective and show the camp trailer in the background. This added a sense of place to the photo.

Storytelling background 02

The camp trailer in the background adds context to the photo of the sleeping infant.

Later on that summer it came time to chop wood for the winter. My little guy wanted to help daddy!

Naturally, I wanted a photo of him trying to chop wood. Depending on the perspective I chose there could have been trees, water, or a wood pile in the background. Since this is a photo about chopping wood, I chose to have the woodpile in the background.

There is even some wood in the foreground, reminding me of what a big job we had that summer!

Storytelling background 03

The huge pile of wood is a natural background for the little wood chopper. Plus it emphasizes how small he is comparatively.

Next time you’re about to snap a photo of somebody, stop and consider your background. Can you move around in order to get a good background to help with storytelling?

Finding a Character to Fit the Background

There may be times when you want to photograph an interesting scene but feel that there is something missing. Perhaps it is the character that is missing. When you come across an interesting scene, go ahead and photograph it. But also wait and allow that scene to become a background for some interesting characters.

When we visited Halls Harbour in Nova Scotia, the rugged shoreline was an obvious feature to photograph. I experimented with different angles and perspectives, but I knew I needed some good characters in the scene. Finally, a couple with their dog came walking down the shoreline. When the man began skipping stones out into the water I knew that these were the characters I was awaiting.

Storytelling background 04

These people and their dog were the perfect additions to the rugged shoreline.

Instead of just a photo of a beautiful landscape, this has become a story about a family on an adventure. To me, skipping stones into the water is a nostalgic sort of moment, so I decided this story looked best in black and white.

Make a story

When the tide was low we could walk out into the harbor amongst the ships that were now resting on the ground. Again, this was an interesting scene that just seemed to be missing a character. Then my son came tip-toeing through the mud and became the perfect character to fit the scene.

Storytelling background 05

When I let my imagination carry me away, I pretend that my son has pulled the plug in the harbor and all the water has drained out. He better sneak away before he gets caught!

Using framing

On a trip to Niagara Falls, we ducked into a building to get some relief from the cold wind and mist from the falls. Through the windows, we could see the falls and a rainbow that was produced through the mist. I wanted to take a photo but waited until my kids went and stood in the window. This allows the falls and rainbow to make up the background while my kids are the characters in the scene.

Storytelling background 06

The characters in the foreground allow the viewer’s attention to be drawn to the falls and rainbow in the background.

Plan ahead

In these next two examples, I used our house as a background for the photo. We were getting ready to move in the spring and I knew we needed a few more photos, by which to remember this old house. So I was determined to use our house as a setting and photograph more scenes with it in the background.

That winter, we built a snow hill nearly as tall as the house itself. That was a perfect opportunity to photograph an exciting event with our home in the background.

Storytelling background 07

A low angle helped to capture this epic moment right in our front yard. The snow hill towers in front of the house in the background.

Storytelling background 08

Our kids will always remember their first childhood home (and the fun they had there) when they look back on these photos.

Next time you come across a nice scene, go ahead and photograph the scene by itself. Once you have done this, you can look for a character to add to the scene, allowing it to become a background for their story. This is a perfect approach for both landscape and street photography. Choose the background and then wait for the character to come along.

Symbolic Backgrounds

So far, all of the backgrounds in these photos have been literal scenes. But you can use a background to give your story some symbolic meaning as well. You do this by finding a background that makes you think deeper than the literal object itself. For example, a sunset in the background isn’t just about the sun, perhaps it’s about “romance” or “a happy ending.”

In this example, my wife is tying up vines in a vineyard. This is a job that needs to be done in the spring before any green actually appears on the vines. There really wasn’t anything nice near her to use as a background, except golden light from the setting sun.

To me, vineyards are about long days of outdoor work, and the romance of shared wine. The warm setting sun was the perfect symbolic background to express these feelings.

Storytelling background 09

The golden sun in the background of this photo is symbolic of the day’s end, and the romance of wine and vineyards.

When you’re photographing a character doing something interesting, ask yourself if there is anything in the background that adds symbolic meaning to what they’re doing.

I have lots of photos of my kids reading books. The following photo is an example of a very boring background that does not help to tell a story.

Storytelling background 10

This background is distracting. The bed leg is growing out of their shoulders and pulls our attention away from what the kids are doing.

You can come up with some great backgrounds for people reading books. A library or a coffee shop would be two good choices for your background. But these are obvious choices and perhaps you could choose a symbolic background instead. Think about the nature of reading and how a person grows as they learn.

Storytelling background 11

This is exactly the sort of place that many people would sit and read a book. There is something about old leather chairs that invite you to nestle in and read. Behind the chair is a wood grain wall. Wood is something that grows. Wood is symbolic of the “growth” that happens when a child learns and reads.

Keep your eye open for backgrounds that are symbolic of the story you want to tell.

Using the Background to Tell a Story in Multiple Photos

When you find a good background, go ahead and use it in different ways to expand on your story.

The following photos are all from Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick. Every tourist who has ever been there, walks away with the same photos from the same perspectives, so I challenged myself to come away with something different. I wanted photos of the rocks, so I used them as the background for the scene and then waited for interesting characters to come along.

The first thing I noticed was lots of tourists rushing around snapping pictures of the rocks. They were always getting in the way of the photo I was taking, so I gave up and took pictures of them instead.

Storytelling background 12

I like how this tourist blends into the rocks. As they reached out their arms to take a photo, their arms mimicked the circle shapes in the rocks.

Two-year-olds are notoriously difficult to photograph. I wanted to take a photo of my daughter with the rocks in the background. But all she wanted to do was chew on saltwater stones. She had been doing this on our entire trip. We were constantly telling her to get the rocks out of her mouth.

Storytelling background 13

If you’re going to photograph a two-year-old, you might just as well photograph her doing what she loves. And what better background for her photo than the massive rocks?

The tide was rising quickly and would soon cover the massive rock formations. In our last moments there something spectacular happened. A park ranger made his own rock formation by balancing several odd shaped rocks on each other.

Storytelling background 14

What a contrast between the massive Hopewell Rocks and the man-made formation. The force of the tide eroded one set of rocks over a long period of time and will quickly topple the rocks that have been so carefully balanced by the ranger.

When you stick with a scene long enough wonderful things happen and your mind will find symbolic meaning that you otherwise might have missed.

You’ll Enjoy Your Photos More When Your Background Adds to the Story

Don’t let your backgrounds be a disappointing afterthought. Instead, consider how the background in your photo can add storytelling elements to your character.

Remember the steps:

  • When you’re going to take a picture of somebody, first ask yourself, “Who is this character and what are they doing?” When you answer these questions you’ll be able to choose a good background for storytelling.
  • You can choose a background for your character, or find a good background and wait for the perfect character to come along.
  • Try using backgrounds to give symbolic meaning to your photos.
  • Use the background in different ways over several photos.

When you pay attention to the background your photos will become less sloppy and more meaningful. Please share some of your images with storytelling backgrounds in the comments below.

The post How to Use the Background to Create More Storytelling Images by Mat Coker appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Photographers have long developed different classifications to pair with the design and execution of a photograph – lines, shape, texture, light, framing, contrast, just to name a few. For example, leading lines appeal to a viewer’s natural tenancy to trace line into a photograph. Sharp lines are used to grab attention and organic lines create a peaceful atmosphere.

Other composition techniques like the Rule of Thirds require a photographer to mentally break down an image to evaluate balance. Low and high perspective alter the way a viewer sees the world and symmetrical/asymmetrical elements highlights the quirky beauty of life. The technique we’ll have a quick look in this article, demonstrates the power of framing, especially in an urban environment.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

What is framing?

Framing in photography creates a self-contained image, like a photo-within-a-photo effect. As photographers, we are used to seeing the world through the frame of a viewfinder. We constantly evaluate what we’ll keep in an image and what we’ll exclude. We deliberately apply perspective, aim, zoom and positioning techniques to construct our photographs – sometimes without even noticing.

By cradling the subject in a balance of space and line, a frame is created, not dissimilar to the photo frames you’d find on your shelf at home.  Essentially, you are crafting a frame within a frame to deliberately bring focus to a subject, adding narrative and the unique experience of voyeurism that photography affords.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

How do I frame a photograph?

For such an effective technique, framing has plenty to offer. It makes use of strong design skills, adding an extra layer to an image to create more depth.  Framing can also be used to obscure more mundane areas of a scene, boosting the efficacy of a photograph when viewed by others.

Composing an image by making use of framing is fairly straightforward. Start out searching for windows and doors as they are the most abundant frames in an urban environment. You’ll find that windows and doors, when photographed, contain their own little ecosystem within the one image. This is great for capitalizing on both content and narrative, almost like reading a window in a comic strip!

Frame shapes

Square or rectangular frames are probably the first things that leap to mind when someone considers framing. Doorways and windows are a great way for emphasizing a subject or depth, but they are not the only options and framing is not limited to squares or rectangles.

The image below proves how versatile the urban environment can be for artificial framing. The image was taken from the floor of a train station, lens pointed to the floor above. The darkness of the building structure is silhouetted against the blue sky, forming a crescent shape. The frame draws attention to the contrast of the architecture against the sky but also cradles the form of a human passing by.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

This photo was taken by chance in a late night shopping district. The framing of the man emphasizes his presence but also isolates him from the rest of the landscape.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

For this image, I aimed to align a gap in the cage with the cat’s face. The slight distortion caused by the lens draws the center square closer to the viewer’s eye. Framing isn’t always a split-second discovery, taking the time to assess a situation and respond creatively can be just as effective as shooting from the hip.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

Shattered windows in rundown urban landscapes offer beautifully detailed landscapes complemented by an informed framing technique.

Keep it real

Framing can be really effective for highlighting specific areas of a photograph. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not every photograph needs framing. Some images are much more effective when they stand alone. Like most photography, you need to be versatile and trust your instincts.

While lining up a perfect shot through a fence can be effective, make sure to be aware of your surroundings too. Don’t focus so heavily on framing that you sacrifice other photographic opportunities. You don’t need to force a frame on an image, so don’t overthink it. You want natural images that are enhanced by a frame, not poor images that require a frame to garner interest.

Just stay open to the idea of framing and gather enough experience to recognize a framing opportunity when one presents itself. This way, opportunities tend to reveal themselves rather than you having to force them out of hiding.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

The branches of these trees act as a natural frame, sectioning up the image to draw attraction to the cute little bunnies within.

The post How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment by Megan Kennedy appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Break the Rules with a Central Composition

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

When you started your journey to become a photographer, it’s likely you quickly encountered the famous Rule of Thirds. This rule is a fantastic guide for how to achieve a balanced and visually-pleasing composition, which is why most photographers use it – from newspaper editorial images to action shots to portraits.

It’s also a very safe way to take photos. However, a central composition has a fascinating way of catching the viewer a little off-guard.

Portrait of man sitting at a bench, photographed with center composition and off-camera flash - How to Break the Rules with a central composition

At its core, photography is about boldly pushing limits and demanding attention. And the centrally composed image is one that definitely demands attention – although not always necessarily for the right reasons.

Give a camera to someone unfamiliar with photography and they tend to put the subject right in the exact middle of their picture. Interestingly enough, it’s almost our default position. But over time we learn to compose according to the “rules” and a central composition then becomes a “mistake”.

A shot showing the rule of thirds - How to Break the Rules with a central composition

A clear example of the rule of thirds being followed to a “T”

But why is it that the same style of composition can look so amateurish sometimes, and then so dramatic or fascinating at other times? Let’s take a closer look at some of the challenges – and benefits – of breaking all the rules and giving a central composition a shot.

A portrait of a man walking through the woods - How to Break the Rules with a central composition

Using Symmetry

One of the strongest reasons to use center composed images is to exaggerate or make use of the symmetry in a setting. Symmetry is when both sides of a picture look like a mirror image of each other – or at least very similar.

A man walked on a trail in the forest in a center composed image - How to Break the Rules with a central composition

Humans are naturally drawn to patterns – and the art of photography is a way to capture or display a pattern. Showing symmetry requires a bit more thought when choosing your camera angle so that the different elements of the picture function together as one.

One thing about using symmetry in photos is that it quickly creates a very distinct style. Filmmaker Wes Anderson is famous for his use of center-composed, wide angle, symmetrical shots. It’s a distinct flavor that makes his movies instantly recognizable and adds a charm that his audiences love.

Square Shoulders

An interesting quirk of using central composition for your image is that you can more easily get away with portraits where the subject’s shoulders are square to the camera – in other words, their body is facing the camera directly.

A portrait of a man in the woods - How to Break the Rules with a central composition

The model is square to the camera, but it isn’t distracting as it matches with the central composition and vertical lines of the trees.

Typically, a model can slightly turn their body or drop one shoulder to appear more flattering in the image. Because center composed images accentuate lines so strongly, your model can be completely square to the camera without it detracting from the picture.

Lines That are Lines

Center composed images benefit from having strong lines. These can be either strong horizontal, vertical, or leading lines that pull towards the center of the image.

Recognizing the natural lines in a setting and using them to your advantage is important for keeping your center composed shot from looking unintentionally amateurish.

How to Break the Rules with a central composition

The lantern is in the center of the image, but the lines of the steps aren’t horizontal. As a result, the image looks unbalanced.

How to Break the Rules with a central composition

The lantern is still in the center of the image, but this time the lines are horizontal and work to support the style of the shot, rather than to detract from it.

Paying attention to the lines isn’t important only for a central composition. Generally speaking, it’s a good rule in photography to make sure lines that are horizontal in real life are horizontal in your pictures.

A Touch of Minimalism

The center composed image thrives on being simple, clean and clear. Your subject is the singular focus in the shot. Cluttered backgrounds or distracting foregrounds may often hurt your image.

A lantern on a forest path How to Break the Rules with a central composition

With a wide aperture, the background turns into smooth out-of-focus bokeh, eliminating any distracting details.

Using a wide aperture to achieve a narrow depth-of-field goes a long way to decluttering an image. By letting the background fall into soft and creamy bokeh, it pulls more attention visually to your subject.

busy background - How to Break the Rules with a central composition

This shot shows the messy and distracting background that the previous effectively removes with selective use of aperture.

Trying out Different Subjects

A central composition isn’t just for portrait shots. You can try it out in nature photography, car photography, detail shots or whatever your heart desires. All of the same rules apply.

Hunting out interesting symmetrical patterns in nature, whether they are in the veins of a leaf or a straight forest path through a tunnel of trees, can make for a very satisfactory center composed shot.

Editing a Central Composition

Trying to figure out if your subject is smack dab in the center of your frame? This is a good time to break out the cropping tool in your photo editor. Your preferred photo editor will come equipped with a grid that will let you carefully ensure that your subject is in the right spot.

LR showing how to crop an image - How to Break the Rules with a central composition

This is the interface in Lightroom for cropping an image. Notice the grid lines which give a clear indication of when the subject is centered.

Having your subject just a hair off of the center line could be an irritating little distraction for your audience. So it’s best to get it right!

To Each Their Own

Photography is heavily subjective – it depends on personal taste. A picture that doesn’t earn a second look from one person could be another person’s favorite shot.

A nighttime portrait of a man on a dock, photographed with central composition

The key for becoming the best photographer you can be is to continuously learn and explore. Discover new methods, tools, and skills that give you the creative freedom to approach a familiar subject from an unfamiliar direction or a new perspective.

That’s why it’s a great idea to keep central composition handy in your photography toolbag, for those moments when you can use it to demand your viewer’s attention.

Who knows? Maybe it will even become your distinctive style as a photographer!

The post How to Break the Rules with a Central Composition by Frank Myrland appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

I honestly can’t remember which brilliant and knowledgeable photographer told me the insightful little tidbit of information below, it was years ago. At any rate, I wish to thank them for the advice. It has helped me to concentrate on my composition and framing my images for storytelling. This little piece of advice has been invaluable. I want to share this knowledge with you.

“What you leave out of the frame is just as important what you include in your photograph.”

Framing and storytelling

It’s so important to consider how you frame your images and the message you wish to convey. The story can change so quickly just by considering which items to keep within the frame and which you choose to exclude.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Although I applied different post-processing treatments. These two images were shot during the exact same session. This image shows a tighter view of the vulture and the landscape.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

This image shot from the same location was framed to include the small town and the wider landscape. It’s a different story from the first image.

Let’s be clear I’m not talking about Photoshopping all kinds of items out of an image I’m talking about how you frame your photograph. Where you stand and the focal length you use can make all the difference in the message your image conveys to the viewer. Let’s take a look at a few examples and discuss.

Excluding elements changes the story

In this series of images my son and his friend are playing at “parkour” during a forest hike. They repeatedly jumped over this log for a good 15 minutes. They were laughing and loving each moment as they performed for my camera.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Here the boys chose to jump from the downed tree in unison.

In the first shot above, both boys are jumping from the log in unison. The image suggests themes of friendship, fun together, youthful exuberance in nature and physical activity. I’ve included it to give you a sense of context and a feel for the actual atmosphere during these series of images.

In this second image below, one boy sits in the background waiting his turn to jump the log. The image still conveys the idea of friendship and youth within nature, but the story is a little different. Now we have boys taking turns to jump the log, and the message conveyed is different.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

In this shot, my son is waiting his turn in the background.

Finally, compare these images to this final shot of just the one lone boy jumping over the log. Now it’s a story about being alone. There’s still the feeling of youthful exuberance, but now it’s a story of solitude as well. The feel of the image changed because I asked one of the boys to step to the side and remain out of the frame. There’s no Photoshop involved. All that was required was that I removed one small element from the image.

Here there’s only the boy included in the image. I purposely shot this image with just the one child.

The story changes subtly in this example, but it’s still an important difference. My intention for this particular shot was much different from the previous shots. I wanted to use this image in my stock library whereas the other images were shared with my friend and serve as memories of our two boys.

Tighter framing changes the story

So the first lesson is that removing one small item can completely change the purposes for which you use a photograph. In this second example, you will see that using a tighter framing and leaving out details once again changes the story of the image.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

I zoomed in close and focused on her eyes.

In this case, one is a very tightly framed shot of the older sister. Then in other shots, I included both girls. The images were taken just moments apart. I wanted a candid headshot of the older sister, but I also wanted to capture the two girls playing together. Getting these two stories was all about framing the image correctly. In the end here’s the final shot of the girls playing. Their mom purchased this image as a large canvas that now hangs in the girls’ bedroom.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

I zoomed out and included both girls in this shot.

Camera angle and framing

It’s now time to consider framing an image from different angles so that you can tell a different story. So let’s take a look at this landscape shot. Blown up, printed, and framed, this makes for a beautiful art print hung above the fireplace – this image speaks of the Canadian wilderness.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

This image was shot from a canoe and I purposely framed the image to leave out certain details.

Take a look at the reality of the location. I used my phone to snap this quick documentary photograph. The reality is we were sitting in a canoe just a few hundred meters from the local marina. We were not really in the wilderness, rather just enjoying being on the water in cottage country.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Here’s a quick documentary shot of the scene taken with my phone. You’ll notice the marina on the right-hand side.


Of course leaving items out of a frame can also be achieved by adjusting your exposure. Consider these two shots of the same scene. I purposely exposed the one scene to create deep shadows as I wanted to black out the small building. Because I wasn’t able to completely blacken it out, I had to add some black during post-processing (yes, I cheated a little).

I knew I wanted the image to be about the silhouette, not the building. So, I eliminated the shed using  Lightroom. I deepened shadows using the adjustment brush and few quick spot removals. Take a moment and consider the effect.  What do you think? Do the images tell different stories?

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

I purposely underexposed this image to create dark shadows that help hide the shed.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Here the exposure allows us to see the shed. This is another example of how the story changes by leaving out just one element.

Framing with a purpose

Purposeful framing is so important to conveying stories within your images. Scan the scene carefully and consider each element. How might that huge decrepit building in the background affect the atmosphere of your portrait? How does garbage on the street change the feel of your idyllic shot of a park? Consider leaving extraneous information out of your shots. If you want to tell the story of an isolated urban scene, then think about extra details you may not need to include.


Give it a try and show us some of the ways you’ve framed your images to convey a story. Show us a comparison of what you’ve left out of the frame and what you’ve included. We want to see how you manage to tell photographic stories.

In closing here are just a few more examples of how the story conveyed by a photo can change when you adjust your framing and leave out certain details.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

I zoomed in closely to focus on just the guitarist’s hands.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

In this shot, I focused on the beautiful singer and her joy as she performed.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Finally, in this image, I included several members of the band together. Again the story changes.

The post Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story by Erin Fitzgibbon appeared first on Digital Photography School.


4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

If you’re like me and love great landscape photography, then you’ve probably wondered how the same photographers seem to be able to pull off beautiful shots of sweeping mountain vistas or incredible black and white images of rolling hills and valleys. It’s as if they have some secret formula for “getting lucky” time and time again. Have you ever thought about what goes into making a strong landscape photograph? The techniques, the composition, the timing, the tools?

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

The fact is, there is no secret formula for making better photos of landscapes. There’s almost always much more that goes into the task than simply snapping a picture of a pretty place. Most great landscape photos are made in beautiful places but that doesn’t mean that every picture of beautiful scenery is a great landscape. While there are no concrete “rules” for doing solid landscape photography there are a few ways to strengthen your landscape work and make those “awesome shots” happen more frequently.

#1 – Construct Interesting Elements

I once had a professor of photography tell me that any photograph could be judged by how much information it contained. It’s easy to say that a successful landscape photo shows the beauty and majesty of a place, but the truth is there is so much more. When setting up for your photo, pay attention to everything that falls within the frame. Look for interesting foreground elements such as trees or rocks, water, even people or animals.

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

Look for ways to add more information to the photograph. Generally, the more you fill the frame with interesting elements the more interesting and appealing the overall photograph will be. But there is also a flip side to this concept as sometimes less is more. There are times when you must know what to NOT include in order to give a better feel to the photo. Look at this photo from a blustery winter morning.

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

The feelings of solitude and isolation are brought about by the use of empty space. More on composing your landscape photos a little later.

#2 – Lighting

Yes, yes…I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “chasing the light” when it comes to making good photos. This is especially true when it comes to landscape photography. There’s a reason why photographers love to shoot in the early morning hours (ugh) or in the waning light of the afternoon or late evening.

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

It comes down to the quality of light which again, adds more interest to a landscape. When you have beautiful light, the entire landscape is transformed into something different. It becomes less ordinary and more extraordinary.

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

As much as it pains me, getting up early and staying out late is virtually a necessity for landscape photographers. The reason being is that some of the most gorgeous golden light comes in the late afternoon as the sun gives way to night. Just as true, the early morning “Blue Hour” as the first glimpses light begin to appear, is another prime time for shooting landscapes.

Even locations that seem somewhat lackluster at midday can take on an entirely new feel in the late or early hours of the day. So be sure to try out different spots at daybreak and sundown. There’s a good reason why we landscape junkies really do chase the light.

#3 – Composition

The very word “composition” describes the nature of how something’s parts are constructed or arranged together. Having all the best ingredients doesn’t help you much if you don’t know how to put them all together into an awesome cake, a beautiful symphony, or in your case…a strong landscape photograph. The way you compose the elements in your landscapes can often make or break the photograph. Again, there are no actual rules to composing your photo but there are some tried and true practices.

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

Adjust the horizon so that it isn’t exactly in the middle of the frame and place foreground or background elements off-center to add interest and make stronger images.

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

It helps to use imaginary lines such as the Rule of Thirds (again, not exactly a rule) to help compose your image.

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

Just as importantly, always remember to shoot your landscapes in accordance with how they “feel”. Composition in landscape photography is about conveying a feeling, not just how the scene looks. Shoot different compositions of the same location until you find one that works best for that particular landscape.

#4 – Gear and Technical Considerations

While a successful landscape photo doesn’t rely on having the latest or greatest gear, there are a few gear and technical aspects that make for better photos. Here are a few tips.

Use a wider lens

Even though many solid landscape photos can be shot at long focal lengths using zoom lenses, generally short focal length (wider angle) lenses work best. Wide angle lenses allow you to include more into the frame of your photo.

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

Use smaller apertures

Continuing on from lenses, using a smaller aperture increases the depth of field and brings more elements into focus. Remember, the larger the F-Number the smaller the physical aperture of the lens becomes.

….and wait for it…..

Use a tripod

If you’ve read any of my other articles, you’ll know that when it comes to landscape photography I believe a sturdy tripod is worth its weight in gold. Reducing motion as much as possible is key for obtaining sharper landscape photographs. Using a tripod helps to eliminate as much camera shake as possible. This becomes important because generally the smaller apertures used in landscape photography call for longer shutter speeds which make hand holding the camera less desirable.

Final Thoughts

A successful landscape photo is a careful construction of multiple ingredients. Knowing what to include (or exclude from your photo) and understanding when the best light happens, go a long way to making a better image.

4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography

Just as importantly, knowledge of how to compose the elements in the frame and what techniques or gear will be needed are both essential to “getting lucky” time and time again. Producing stronger landscapes takes patience and a little planning but it is well worth the effort.

The post 4 Key Elements to Help You Create Stronger Landscape Photography by Adam Welch appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Visual weight is the term given to compositional elements within an image and how much visual impact they have. Some things will feel heavier or more present within the image in comparison to other elements. As a photographer, it is your role to understand this and use it to your advantage when setting up your composition.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

How can visual weight affect an image?

  • Light colored elements = a light feel
  • Dark colored elements = a heavy feel
  • Eyes/faces = heavy
  • Text = heavy
  • Negative space = light
  • Focus = can be heavy or light depending on what you are focusing on
  • Image placement within the frame = can choose to make something heavier or lighter
  • Scale = can affect the weight of an element
  • Balance = can affect the weight of an element or the feel of the overall image
  • Color = a pop of unexpected color is heavier than its surroundings

Examples and Discussion

Light or even toned images and feel

This macro shot of red clover is tonally quite similar over the entire image, with a shallow depth of field and a soft focus. The color tones are also soft so the overall feeling to this image visually is quite light – there isn’t really anywhere for the eye to settle and engage with the image.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Compare it with another image that is tonally quite similar, color tones are muted with soft blurry cloud elements. However, in the image below there is a distinct contrast between the white and black points in this image. The black rocks have distinct visual weight and there is a definite point for the eye to rest on and travel around the image.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Image with large dark areas

In the case of dark moody shots with a lot of black background showing, you would think that the black would overpower the whole image. However, When the subject is well lit and positioned in a sculptural shape like the gerbera below, the subject carries the visual weight of the image and the black recedes into the background to support it.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

The landscape below is deliberately underexposed to add drama to the sky and show off the subtle light beams through the clouds. This meant the dark rocks are particularly underexposed and so they carry the visual weight of the image, almost slightly too heavy towards the bottom as a result.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Color against a neutral background

A bright pop of color in an otherwise neutral tone background carries all the visual weight in the following two images.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Additionally, in the image of the New Zealand native wood pigeon below, the sharp eye holds the visual weight, with extra emphasis due to the bright red color of the eye and the beak. This is where your eye is drawn first.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Balance and scale

Balance and scale are also important factors. In the lighthouse image below, the bright white of the lighthouse holds the eye and the attention, but the horizon line of the sky against the sea gives the necessary scale to balance the overall compostion of the image.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

This floating swimming platform has the visual weight in this image, balancing the landscape on the left of the frame, which in turn provides the scale to understand the platform in the overall image context. Being closer to the camera also gives the platform more weight in this composition as well.

Balance of light and dark

In the horseshoe image below, it has been deliberately shot to enhance both the dark shadows, The white spiderwebs and add textural details, while the shadows add supporting visual weight to the shapes of the horseshoes.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Below is a similar black and white image, with shadow detail supporting textural elements. But this image is more about the lighter areas, which take up most of the large central area within the image, so they carries more of the visual weight of the image.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Color and balance

Use of colour within an image can have significant impact. In the image of a sunset below, with the rich red clouds and the dark silhouetted tree line at the bottom, you might thing the dark trees carry the visual weight, but they instead balance out the large red cloud area nicely. The darkest or brightest element is not always the visually heaviest.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Tonally the image below is very even, with the dark sea cliffs being balanced out by the bright sunrise of the sea haze. But the surprise in this image is that the visual weight is carried by the single seagull in flight across the ocean.

Another sunrise, quite dark toned, but here the white froth of the waves taken as a long exposure to capture the movement has the visual weight within this image.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Assessing visual weight within a composition

The image of a leafy stream below has a nice balance of light and dark. The stream travels diagonally through the image, drawing the eye. While there is quite a heavy visual weight in the bottom left-hand corner, it still has enough light to have texture and detail and be part of the image. There are enough brighter areas above it and through the water as well so that the overall composition doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the darker areas. Our brains can accept that it is an image taken within a forest, so there will be light and dark areas.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Visual weight working against the image

Wild Kookaburra on a tree branch (below). In processing, this image has been deliberately overexposed as the original image was taken in shade and was quite dark. This has changed the tonal balance quite a lot, especially in the background. The branch closest to the camera has all the visual weight in this image, weighing it down and making it heavy on the right side. The bird’s dark eye and the feather detail on the wing do counteract the branch a bit, but not enough.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Still life with a feather – an experiment shot while learning still life and food photography. An another example of how visual weight needs to be taken into account in your composition. Here the feather is too light in tone, too small in scale and too soft in structure to balance out the darkness of the basket of eggs in the background. Even though the feather is in sharp focus, the egg basket has all the visual weight in this image.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Visual weight working for the image

Negative space works really well here with the macro flower shot below. The flower only takes up a small part of the overall image, but because that one element is in sharp focus and the rest is very blurred and becomes part of the background, the flower has all the visual weight in this image. Notice how at the very bottom of the frame, the stem of flowers that is in partial focus also contributes to the weight of the image.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition

Framing and placement of the gerbera flowers (below) relate directly to the visual weight of them within the image. The diagonal line bisects the image in half, but adds a dynamic angle that engages the eye. The selective focus at the front of the petals combined with the dark stem visually balance out the rest of the negative space in this image. The two other flowers are further away and out of focus so support the subject visually but due to their softness, do not overwhelm the image.

How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition


Visual weight is a more advanced composition concept, one that may be difficult to grasp initially. Understanding how it can impact your final image is important because thinking about it as part of the overall composition is necessary. Obviously with things like landscapes, macro, flowers, food photography and other staged or stationary situations you have more time to think and adjust your composition. With street, event, wedding, sport or other changeable situations, you may not get time to consider all your options.

As can be seen from the examples above, both good and bad, visual weight can and does make a difference to the final image. Learning to see compositionally and frame your shot up with intent and forethought will improve your photography more than anything else, in my opinion.

Because visual weight is affected by other elements of the composition – like tone, focus, light/dark, balance and scale – if you are thinking about those, then visual weight becomes part of the overall composition equation. It is still useful to think about it as a separate element, if you have time to do so, and of course, if you remember. Do you use visual weight as a compositional element for your images?

The post How to Understand and Use Visual Weight in Composition by Stacey Hill appeared first on Digital Photography School.


5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials


Minimalism is one of those movements that some people see as a recent fad or newfangled things, like fidget spinners or man buns. In reality, minimalism is a true case of making what was once old new again, and unlike the aforementioned man bun, that’s a good thing.

In photography, minimalism is an obvious visual statement; the story of the photograph is simplified, elements are reduced, and clean space is added. Not only has minimalist photography become its own genre (you can see some excellent examples of minimal imagery here), but photographers specializing in the discipline have come into their own, creating a revitalized, attractive space of art for us all to enjoy.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Minimalism (even in photography) isn’t new. Before the term became ubiquitous and synonymous with “new” and “clean”,  the style existed in various forms under other names. It has had a profound and positive influence on photography as it exists in the modern world.

But do you have to fully embrace specializing as a minimalist photographer to benefit from the advantages of the style? Absolutely not! Each of the tips below can work for almost any kind of photography. Let’s explore some of the guidelines and see how you can apply them to your own work, regardless of genre or type.

#1 – Make the story concise

As with any photo, the story is the most important thing to convey to your viewer. In minimalism, you want to tell that story as efficiently as possible. That means clean backgrounds, negative space where appropriate, and a well-defined subject.

We will discuss background and separation of the subject in more detail below, but generally, you don’t want any distracting elements in ANY photograph. Keeping your background clean, whether through blurring, or using a solid color or simple texture can remove any unwanted distractions.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Negative space is defined as the margin around your subject and other important objects in your composition. Properly used, this space accentuates what you actually want the viewer to deem as most important in the photo.

When looking through the viewfinder at a potential shot, take a moment to get a feeling of the complexity of what you’re seeing. If the composition feels muddy or hard to discern, recompose your image to include some extra negative or white space around your subject.

#2 – Isolate the subject

Wide-open apertures along with proper positioning of the subject to background tend to make smooth, creamy backgrounds, separating it from the subject of the photo. This is right up the minimalist’s alley. Having a solid or smoothly blurred background really isolates what you want to highlight in the photo, and keeps the viewer’s eye from being overrun by more complex patterns to distinguish.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

In some photos, you may not want that blurred effect on your background. Many landscape photos, for example, are shot using stopped-down apertures such as f/11 or f/16, because you want most of the scene in focus. This is because, in those situations, the entire scene can be the subject. In those situations, using color or patterns are other ways of separating the subject from your background.

But many other types of photos, especially nature and portraiture, benefit greatly from a wider aperture and using that to create separate layers in the image. Experimenting with the effects that aperture and distance have on that separation can provide many different looks for the same composition.

#3 – Use color to your advantage

One of the most powerful methods of constructing a minimalist image is by using color to create a contrast. While you don’t necessarily have to go to the extremes that you would in a completely minimalist photo, picking two or even three colors that juxtapose well with each other and featuring them prominently in the textures of the image can improve the attractiveness of the shot.

While minimalist photographs tend to use large areas of solid contrasting colors to establish simplicity, other photography can benefit by keeping the color palette small and using colors that work well together or invoke a particular feeling in the viewer. For example, I find one of the most intriguing and pleasing color combinations to the eye to be blue and red, as in this example of the old red rowboat on the shore (bel0w).

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Using a color wheel (as shown below), you can identify color harmony, which are complementary color combinations that are pleasing to the eye. Then try to use those color combinations in your images.

Color wheel

Diagram by Wikipedia contributor Jacobolus

#4 – Embrace leading lines

Because minimalist photography tends to feature very simple compositions, lines and textures are often used to improve upon storytelling and point the viewer in the right direction. Finding natural leading lines in your compositions can help guide the eyes of the viewer where you want them to go, which allows you to minimize the number of elements in your photo needed to tell the story.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Lines can be found everywhere; train tracks, roads, sidewalks, and buildings are just a few examples. While they are easy to find, it is just as easy to misuse them and confuse the viewer. If the line is easy to pick out, then it should lead the eyes somewhere relevant. Lines should not lead the viewer randomly away from the subject, or out of the frame with no real destination.

#5 – Find texture and use it

Texture can be a powerful element in a photograph, especially when an entire image is built around it. Obviously most often used when shooting subjects in the natural world around us, textures are a tool that can communicate many things to the viewer, including emotions, mood, light, and darkness.

Because of the limited language of minimalism, texture itself is often used as the subject, usually in the form of repeated patterns. All photography, however, can benefit from its strategic use. What is the effect when the subject features a consistent, repeating texture, as opposed to one that consists of an uneven texture made up of objects of varying size and smoothness?

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Texture is a great way to put a large, consistent element in your image without introducing too much distraction.

Can millions of grains of smooth beach sand, saturated with ocean water, serve as a different backdrop than a large area of broken shells and sand mixed together? What type of effect will this have on the viewer’s perception of the image?


As photographers, regardless of skill level, we are destined to be students of an innumerable amount of subjects. We must constantly keep learning, and apply the things we learn to our work, to keep innovating our style, invigorating our images, and keep our viewers interested.

While minimalist photography is very popular today and is an intriguing discipline, it’s not the chosen style for us all. But the ability to take the most important points from that genre and apply it to your own work is what elevates you as a photographer, and keeps you on top of your game.

What are your thoughts on the current state of minimalism, and its influence on art and photography? Is minimalism your favorite photography style? Have some minimalist images of your own to share? Let’s discuss this and more in the comments below.

The post 5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work by Tim Gilbreath appeared first on Digital Photography School.


5 Composition Tips for Landscape Photography

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

So what exactly is composition in photography and why is it such a big deal? Composition is the way you intentionally arrange or put together the visual elements in an image, in and around your subject. The goal is to catch the viewer’s interest and keep it wandering around your photo. While some people have an innate ability to “see” and compose great images, it is a skill that can be taught.

Once you have identified your subject, here are a few useful precepts you can use when composing your next great image.

5 Composition Tips for Landscape Photography

1. Simplicity

Now that you have your subject in mind, the first question is how do you showcase it so there is no doubt of your intent? Keeping it simple is a good approach, as clutter can distract or even make it difficult to identify your focus. Most times in landscape photography, you have no control over what is around your subject. Here the use of lighting can reduce clutter, as the brighter areas of your photo will draw the eye in. You can also find an angle that helps you remove any

Most times in landscape photography, you have no control over what is around your subject. Here, the use of lighting can reduce clutter, as the brighter areas of your photo will draw the eye to them. You can also find an angle that helps you remove any strong elements that can detract the focus of the object. Thus use only what you consider necessary components. Good composition is as much about what you leave out as it is what you include.

Good composition is as much about what you leave out as it is what you include.

5 Composition Tips for Landscape Photography

2. Lines

You have no doubt heard the term lead-in lines – which are lines that direct the eye where you want it to go. This is a powerful tool in composition and can add a three-dimensional feel to your image. It does this by creating movement and can take away that static/flat feeling.

Lines can be literal (such as roads, streams, power lines, or fences) or implied (those that link different subjects in the frame). While diagonal lines are considered the strongest, you are not limited to it as experimenting with horizontal, vertical and converging lines can also be a source of inspiration.

5 Composition Tips for Landscape Photography

3. Oddities

If you have more than one subject in your image, choose an arrangement with an odd number of subjects (at least three e.g. three rocks or trees). Similarly, you can frame or surround your main subject with two objects to add visual stimulation. Odd numbers within a frame are said to be more pleasing and comforting to the eye.

5 Composition Tips for Landscape Photography

Side Note: In landscape photography, even numbers in the frame can seem less natural and informal, although an even number of subjects can produce symmetry. This is just something to keep in mind if you are breaking the “rule of odds”.

4. Interest

The easiest way to create interest is by having a foreground element in your shot which adds extra depth and dimension. Following on from the point above, you can feature a subject in the foreground, middle, and background, keeping them harmonious or having subjects that complement each other. Complementary subjects are those that have some association (e.g. they are the same color, similar appearance, or add to your story in some way). On the opposite side of this, you can use juxtaposition to create some tension in your image.

Other ways to add interest can be showing the scale of the scene by including an object or person or even by framing your photo in an interesting way.

5. Rules? What Rules?

Most composition articles start with the rule of thirds. This rule divides the image into thirds horizontally and vertically and suggests that you arrange your subject and other important elements near these division lines or at their intersections. The objective is to be more visually pleasing, as placing your subject in center of the frame stops the eye there and takes away from the movement you are trying to create and use to your advantage.

5 Composition Tips for Landscape Photography

It is a classic rule that is widely used with great results, so it is an excellent place to start as a beginner. However, what if you want to create a perfectly symmetrical image, such as a mountain with its perfect reflection in a lake? What if you have just as much interest in the sky as in the ground? An image like that will clearly not follow the rule of thirds, would it?

When you are out in the real world looking at the scene before you, these rules become more like handy suggestions. You need to allow your subject to influence your composition and not force it to conform to the “rules”. Therefore knowing the rules helps you decide when it is okay to break them, this is a skill you will develop over time.

5 Composition Tips for Landscape Photography

5 Composition Tips for Landscape Photography


Composition is important. To get a sense of how important, think about the impact of what you perceive as a really good or bad image. First, analyze the elements and how they work or do not work together. Identify the subject(s) of the photo and break it down into which compositional “rules” are present or broken. Are there lead-in lines? Is there a point of interest in the foreground or odd numbers present? Remember to move around your scenery and try different angles for your composition and in time you will know which rules to apply or ignore.

Please share any images you have created that use one or more of these tips, in the comments below.

The post 5 Composition Tips for Landscape Photography by Nisha Ramroop appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Five Ways to Improve Your Composition Skills

Filed Under Composition Tips, Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Composition is one of the most important skills you can learn as a photographer. The interesting thing about composition is that it’s all to do with observation and learning to see. You may need to invest in a book or two to help you understand the basic principles, but nothing more. It’s a much more cost-effective way of becoming a better photographer than buying a new camera or lens!

There are five things you can do right away to improve your composition skills.

Composition and photography

1. Learn how to use your camera properly

The aim is to know your camera so well that you can photograph without thinking about it. This comes through familiarity and practice.

Try this exercise. Close your eyes and pick up your camera. Which buttons and dials do you need to use to adjust aperture, shutter speed, and autofocus? How do you select the active AF (autofocus) point? How do you apply exposure compensation? If you don’t know the answers without looking, then read your manual. You should be so familiar with these settings that you can adjust them automatically, with no more than a glance at your camera.

Learn this simple approach

Digital cameras have lots of menu options and it’s easy to get caught up in adjusting settings. I suggest you ignore most of them and keep your approach simple. Here’s how:

  • Always shoot RAW format and set White Balance to Daylight or Auto and keep it there. Pick one camera profile and stick with it. You can adjust all of these settings afterward in Lightroom.
  • Don’t touch any settings such as lens corrections, contrast, dynamic range, noise reduction, sharpness or highlight preservation. These are all irrelevant if you shoot RAW.
  • Don’t switch between metering modes. Stick to one and learn how it works.
  • Understand your camera’s focus modes and when to use each one.
  • Learn how to select the active AF point so you can make the camera focus where you want.
  • Make sure you know how to switch to Manual shooting mode and when you should do so.
  • Learn how to apply exposure compensation, preferably without taking your camera away from your eye.

For most forms of photography, you don’t need to know anything more than that. The main exception is anything that involves fast action, as you may need to adjust your camera’s autofocus settings to suit. The idea is to know your camera so well that you can concentrate on observing the subject and finding the best possible composition.

Composition and photography

Some photographers say that the dials on cameras like the Fujifilm X-T1 (shown above) and old style film cameras help them adjust settings quickly.

Fiddling with your camera’s settings is a distraction. The more attention you pay to your settings, the less you’ll pay to the composition of your images.

2. Look beyond the obvious

The first viewpoint you find when you take a photo of something may not be the best or most interesting.

When you find a worthwhile subject spend some time with it. Try and look beyond what first attracted you to it. This is called working the subject.

  • What happens if you photograph it from another angle?
  • With another lens?
  • Or if you get closer or further away?
  • Is there anything interesting about the subject that you have overlooked?

For example, if you are taking someone’s portrait it might be because they have a captivating or beautiful face. But what else is interesting about them? Their clothes? Jewelry? Tattoos? Look beyond the face and see what you can find.

Composition and photography

I made some portraits of a friend of mine. But he also has interesting hands. After I made the portraits I asked him to hold his hands out and made this photo.

3. Educate your eye

You can learn a lot about composition by studying the work of master photographers. It’s time to pick some photographers whose work you like and get analytical. I like looking at photos taken decades ago. Photographers back then worked with much simpler equipment and didn’t have our technological advantages. Yet the best still created beautifully composed images.

So, how did they do it? When looking at somebody else’s work ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they working in black and white or color? How would switching from one to the other affect the composition?
  • What is the focal point of the image? Is it positioned in the frame according to the rule of thirds or could there be other principles at work?
  • What shapes and patterns do you see?
  • Is there any negative space in the photo? How much room does the subject have to breathe?
  • Is the photo balanced or unbalanced? What is the visual relationship between the various elements in the scene? Which are dominant and which are secondary in importance?
  • Can you tell what lens focal length the photographer may have used? How would using a different focal length affect the composition?
  • How did the photography create a sense of depth?

Questions like these deepen your understanding of the work of other photographers. The answers inform your work as you evolve as a photographer.

Composition and photography

This landscape scene was lit by the light reflected from the clouds and sky after the sun disappeared below the horizon. I first became aware of the beauty of this type of light when looking at the work of Galen Rowell, a famous adventure and landscape photographer.

4. Work with geometry and symmetry

Learn to look for shapes in your photos. A good place to start is with anything man-made, as we tend to build things with recognizable shapes like triangles, squares, and circles.

Repeating shapes create patterns and symmetry that can also form the basis of an interesting composition.

For example, when you look at this photo, what do you see?

At first glance, it’s a photo of an outdoor cinema screen in a Chinese village. But look closely and you start to see shapes. The rectangle of the screen is an obvious one. But did you notice the diamonds made by the pattern in the flooring? Or the organic shapes of the Chinese characters on the wall?

5. Use punctuation and gesture

Jay Maisel talks a lot about gesture and Bob Holmes talks about punctuation. Look up the work of these two photographers to learn more about these concepts.

Punctuation is the addition of something interesting, often a human figure, that completes a scene. The photo needs that little something extra to lift it above the ordinary. Punctuation is an important part of street and travel photography.

For example, this photo is completed and made stronger by the presence of the woman in the doorway.

Composition and photography

In his book “Light, Gesture & Color” Jay Maisel defines gesture as the thing that reveals the essence of the subject. Everything has it. Gesture takes us beyond the superficial to the essence of the subject and reveals itself through observation.

Imagine you are photographing a mountain. What do you see? Maybe it’s the shape of the mountain against the sky. The textures of the rocks scattered over the surface, the steepness of its cliffs, or the way that clouds wrap themselves around the summit. All these things are part of the gesture of the mountain, the things that make it what it is.

With people, gesture is a mixture of body language and attitude. If you are making a street photo it may be in the body language or appearance of somebody in the photo. If you are making a more formal portrait it is something in the model’s expression or body language that helps create mood or communicate character.

In this photo the pose and expression of the dancer are gesture.

Composition and photography - gesture

Punctuation and gesture are advanced concepts. But it’s worth thinking about how you can apply them to your photos, as they help make the composition of your images stronger.


Composition is an important skill. It takes time to master, but it’s worth the effort as the quality of your photos will improve immensely.

Do you have any other suggestions for ways to improve your composition skills? Please let us know in the comments. I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas you come up with.

Andrew is the author of the ebook Mastering Composition.

The post Five Ways to Improve Your Composition Skills by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.