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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.


Visual Flow – How to Get the Most out of Composition

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

In photography terms, composition can make the difference between a good image and a fantastic one. Yes, you need all the other components; the light has to be dramatic, the subject compelling, and the colours vibrant. All of these will add to the final result. If you have all that, but your composition is not great, the image will fall flat.

Jay Maisel has a quote that goes like this, “As the photographer, you are responsible for every inch of the frame”. This is true, and one of Jay’s other mantras is that he prefers to speak about framing and not cropping. His view is that framing is done at the time of making the image. Cropping is done afterward in post-production. He maintains that cropping changes the original intent of the image. If you frame an image in a particular way and then crop it afterward, it really is a different image.


Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Frame your scene correctly in camera

I don’t think Jay is saying that you shouldn’t crop, but rather that you need to compose with intent and purpose, not simply hope for the best and try and “fix” the image later by cropping. Good composition can really be impactful on your image. Changing your composition is free. You don’t need any special equipment or lenses. There’s no need to wait for a specific type of light. You can shoot at any time of day. Composition is the one thing in photography that is easiest to fix, yet it is most often overlooked.

There are many articles on DPS and other sites about composition and the best techniques for improving composition, so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel. What I want to talk about here is visual flow. This is more about the visual journey you are taking your viewer on than the destination. In this article, we aren’t going to discuss the rule of thirds and powerpoints, but we will discuss how framing, removing distractions, and how light, shape, and texture will all contribute to your composition.

We will look at how someone’s eye will travel through your image. You want the viewers of our images to look at them longer, to find them interesting and to be captivated and inspired by what they see.

Framing not cropping

As the photographer, you need to take responsibility for everything in the frame. That means, you decide what will be in the shot and sometimes more importantly, what will NOT be in the shot. Your subject needs to be in the frame obviously, but what else absolutely needs to be included? Ask yourself if all the elements in the frame are adding to the narrative or story you are trying to tell. If not, get rid of what is not working.

In this case, less is definitely more (and usually better). Be aware of visual clutter in the frame, objects that are distracting or drawing the viewer’s full attention away from the subject. This is really tough to get right and it takes time and practice. But once you become aware of this and work hard on fixing it, it will become much easier.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Focus on your subject

Remove distractions

This sounds obvious but is not always easy. There are many things that can cause your viewer to be distracted when they look at your image. Any words in your photograph will automatically draw they eye. Signposts, graffiti, street signs…anything with words or letters will cause the viewer to look at that part of the image. If the wording is not the reason for the image, then try and remove that item from the frame as it may be distracting.

Color can cause the eye to wander. If your scene is full of color, that’s great, but if it is largely monochromatic and there is only one color in the frame, that color will become the focal point. Warm colors like yellow or red will very quickly pull the eye across to them, so be aware of the colors in your image.

The human form will also draw the eye. Again, if the person in the frame is a key part of the image, that’s great, leave them in the shot. But if not, then wait until they leave the scene or reframe the scene without them. As humans, we tend to find the human form in an image very quickly and this will become the main focus of the image.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Be aware of distractions, words, powerlines etc

Using light, shape and texture

These three elements (there are more) will greatly help you in your visual flow.

Light is key to making any image. Without light, we cannot do photography. Light also informs so much in your image. You can use side light to emphasize texture in your image. You can use front light to create a silhouette, which will emphasise shape. These three elements are important tools in making sure your image compels people to look at it.

Shapes in your image add a dynamic feel. Get in close and emphasize the shape of an object. If it has a curve, make that curve fill the frame. Shapes can make a great subject too. They are all around you too, you just have to start looking.

Texture is a great way to emphasize your subject. To get great texture images, your light needs to come from the side. Side light enhances texture and each granular detail can be seen if the light is right. Texture will make your images seem three dimensional. Using texture is a great way to communicate more information about your subject.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Use side light to emphasize texture.

Get in close

To make sure that you get the most out of the scene, you can do a few things. First, move in closer and fill the frame with your subject. This is especially useful if you are doing abstract or creative images. If you are not going to fill the frame, then decide where to put your subject. Yes, you can use the rule of thirds for this (this would be my last choice), but you can also use the Fibonacci Spiral (Golden Ratio) or any number of other compositional techniques.

The most important part of an effective composition is to make sure that your viewer knows what they are supposed to look at in your image. If your subject (the reason for the image) is unclear, your image will have little impact. You have likely seen this happen. You show someone photos from your last trip and they simply glance at them in passing. Then suddenly, something catches their attention in a particular image and they stop and look intently at the scene. That’s when you know your image has hit the mark.

As I said earlier, all the elements need to come together to make a great image, but if you have good light, great exposure and bad composition, chances are, people will just flip past the image.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Fill the viewfinder with your subject.


So, how else can you improve your composition? It is deceptively simple but easily overlooked. Some of the things I do is get inspiration from the top photographers in the genre I want to shoot. If it is street photography, then I am looking at Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jay Maisel, Ernst Haas, and others. If it is landscape photography, then I will be looking at Ansel Adams, Charlie Waite, and Koos van der Lende. I look at photographers who inspire me. I also make a point of visiting art galleries whenever I can.

Photography is not even 200 years old as an art form. Much of the techniques we use as photographers have been learned from the painters and artists of old. Spend time looking at the composition of master painters. Look at how they placed subjects in their scene. See how the light works in their paintings, is it hard light or soft light? Spend time taking note of how they used color and shapes in their images. Then, go out and apply that to your photographs. Over time you will begin to see your eye and your images improve.

Visual Flow - How to Get the Most out of Composition

Work hard at improving your compositional eye.

The post Visual Flow – How to Get the Most out of Composition by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.


5 Simple Techniques for Leading the Viewer’s Eye in Your Images

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

As photographers, it’s easy for us to make conscious composition choices that allow us to balance our photographs or to create harmony within them. It’s is more difficult however to try and lead viewers through your photographs. We rarely consider how to influence the viewers of our photographs. When composing images, we don’t think about the different elements in our images and the order by which we want viewers to see those elements.

This is a common tactic in classic painting, but not used readily by photographers. The reality is it’s hard to influence viewers and to dictate the ways in which they view our photographs.

The lines of the creek lead the viewer’s eye through and into the image.

In many cases, the subject matter we are shooting just happens too fast for us to consciously compose images with the intention of leading the viewer through our photographs. It’s much easier to lead the eye through images we construct like still life or landscape photos. In the case of sports photography, this would only happen by sheer luck or happy accident. But when you have the opportunity, think about using techniques that lead viewers to specific parts of your images.

#1 – Use a brightness gradient

One of my favorite techniques for leading the eye is to use a brightness gradient. The human eye is drawn to the brighter elements, and if you position an area of brightness within your image, the eye will be drawn to that location.

It is important, however, to remember that the key to this technique is to use a gradient of brightness. Small bright areas amidst darker tones will not achieve the same kind of effect. The idea is to make the progression of highlights subtle, like a path through your image. Of course, this technique will not be possible in all situations but if it’s available considering using this method.

5 Simple Techniques for Leading the Viewer's Eye in Your Images

Shot from a kayak during sunrise I wasn’t intending to shoot this image with a brightness gradient. Instead, it’s a happy accident.

#2 – Linear perspective

When using a wide angle lens, you can consciously create linear perspective within images. This technique might be one of the more easily attainable methods of leading the eye. The wide angle lens will exaggerate lines and lead the eye fairly directly through the photograph. You can compose your photographs in such a way that buildings or other architectural features draw viewers through your photograph.

5 Simple Techniques for Leading the Viewer's Eye in Your Images

The line of lights and the line of buildings lead the eye through the photo. The viewer should be stopped by the bright spots of light within the image but then continue on through the rest of the photograph.

I’ve added some arrows to this image so you can see how the lines of the pier point the viewer into the photograph. The teenager in the image is a second way of directing the eye as he stops to view the sunset.


#3 – Use shafts of light

Using shafts of light is another technique for pointing viewers in the right direction. The conditions are very specific, and shafts of light are not always readily available, but they can be a useful tool for pointing out specific directions or objects within a photograph.

The photograph below was taken by my son. His plan when composing was to have the ray of light point towards the people. I must admit I didn’t think of composing in such a manner and when I asked him later he said it was “the natural choice”. Since that time I’ve made conscious decisions to look for and incorporate rays of light into my images.

5 Simple Techniques for Leading the Viewer's Eye in Your Images

There’s a fairly strong lens flare in this image but my son made a conscious choice in how he composed his photograph and I’m proud of him for his decisions.

#4 – Use a blur gradient

Using a blur gradient (shallow depth of field) is another method of leading the eye. I will admit that I don’t use this technique much. I even struggled to find images to use as examples for the article. Part of my reasoning is that I hope I will now be forced to experiment more with this technique.

Using a focus gradient can lead the eye to the important elements of the photograph. Setting up a shot in which the foreground is blurred and slowly recedes through the image to the point of sharp focus will draw viewers to specific objects within the frame.

I used a fairly large aperture here and while the blur gradient isn’t as obvious it is still present in the image.

#5 – Use more than one technique

You can also combine these techniques to help influence eye movement throughout your images. In these two images, the eye moves through the image the light gradient is the most obvious technique but lines of architecture within the building help to draw the viewer down the tunnel. The lights hanging at the top of the image are an obvious line that directs the eye.

Similarly, this image of the couple walking through the image adds to the movement within the photograph. The lines of the path reinforce the direction the viewer should take within the image.

Shot at a provincial park this image combines elements like linear perspective and vectors.


Leading the eye through a photograph is not an exact science. You can’t force viewers to follow the path you set for them. Each person approaches the artwork in different ways. If your use some of the techniques outlined here, it will help you to create compelling compositions. The more thought and purpose we put into creating our images the better they will be. While there may not always be time to use these techniques, it’s always handy to keep them in the back of your mind and use them when the time is right.

The more thought and purpose you put into creating your images the better they will be. While there may not always be time to use these techniques, it’s handy to keep them in the back of your mind and use them when the time is right.

The eye-leading techniques used in this image are a little harder to spot. I used the lines of the barrels and rays of light to direct the viewer’s eye into the center of the image.

The post 5 Simple Techniques for Leading the Viewer’s Eye in Your Images by Erin Fitzgibbon appeared first on Digital Photography School.


An Unconventional Composition Technique to Improve Your Photos

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

Last month I sat down and reread Michael Freeman’s book, “The Photographer’s Mind.” which I do occasionally. I find that by revisiting the words of other photographers I remind myself of the multitude of tools available to us. There’s so much we can do to create fresh and amazing photographs.

One of those ways is to push our skills and update our thinking. I think I’ve read through Freeman’s book about two or three times now. Every few years I take it off the shelf again. His books are insightful and interesting to read. Freeman offers up unique ideas for composition using both conventional and unconventional techniques. The books are readily available. You can also check out our review of one of Freeman’s other books here; “The Photographer’s Eye”. In this article, let’s journey through one of the concepts he discusses in his book, “Engineered Disorder”.

An Unconventional Composition Technique to Improve Your Photos

The details of the image are broken up into sections by the heavy shadows.

What is Engineered Disorder?

Freeman explains that Engineered Disorder is the active effort of a photographer to use non-conventional methods of composing photographs. Essentially, we are breaking the rules to create interesting images. Engineered Disorder means that we forget about conventional methods like unifying elements within the frame. We might allow ourselves to create uncluttered compositions. In one chapter Freeman talks about different methods of creating Engineered Disorder and bucking the system. He mentions using techniques such as disconnects, disruptive foreground, breaking the frame, superimposed layers and extremes of contrast. Maybe these terms sound complicated and a little too complex to understand, but they don’t have to be.

Let’s break down one of these techniques and see what’s involved in creating Engineered Disorder. We will discuss the use of extreme lighting or chiaroscuro to create disconnect within an image. It’s one of my favorite techniques. I love to include deep blacks and bright highlights in my compositions.


Chiaroscuro – chi·a·ro·scu·ro – the treatment of light and shade in drawing, painting, and photography.

Using this technique means that we employ very hard lighting to break up the unity of a composition. The image becomes a series of pieces that communicate meaning but are broken up by dark shadows and bright highlights. Conventional composition techniques would say that using this type of technique makes for a bad photograph, but remember we are pushing the elements of composition.

An Unconventional Composition Technique to Improve Your Photos

The strong shadows in this image hide some details from the viewer. The leaf can only be viewed in pieces. This means a viewer has to pause and take in each part of the image separately and then piece together the whole scene. Making a viewer stop and study your image is important. Given the number of photographs out there you want to make viewers take some time to digest your images rather than scan through and move on. 


Experimenting with dark and light

Consider my careful experimentation with Chiaroscuro. This image portrays the common Canada goose in a much more unique fashion. In the opening moments of golden hours, these geese become elegant shadows. The different sections of light and dark create interesting graphic qualities within the image.

An Unconventional Composition Technique to Improve Your Photos

In this second image, I’ve used auto tone to create a more conventional image. While the actual shot is very similar, these two different treatments create considerably different photographs. Which one do you prefer?

An Unconventional Composition Technique to Improve Your Photos

A more conventional exposure.

Other examples

Here’s another example of Chiaroscuro. This is a photograph of a unique area near my home. Everyone calls this place The Badlands. The red and gray clay create these beautiful graphic designs which draw visitors to the area. The hills are in danger of being destroyed by visitors, but the area is truly beautiful. The shadows and the light create beautiful diagonal lines in this particular image.

An Unconventional Composition Technique to Improve Your Photos

This are is now off limits to visitors because of the damage caused by walking on the hills.

In this final image, the light and darks highlight different circular objects. Perhaps this image isn’t as disconnected as the others but it still presents a unique treatment for the door of a fishing boat. The image focuses on graphic design elements of the boat rather than the uses of the vessel. The image has been turned into an abstract and most viewers will need to analyze the image before they can determine the exact subject matter.

An Unconventional Composition Technique to Improve Your Photos

Conclusion – your turn

Experimenting with different techniques is never a bad thing. You can learn and improve your photos by playing with unconventional techniques. Creating these images certainly pushed the dynamic capabilities of my camera. Exposing for deep shadows can be a challenge all on its own, but it’s a lot of fun to try out these different techniques.

While we’ve only discussed one of the methods for creating Engineered Disorder, these three examples clearly highlight the technique. It’s better to fully understand just one compositional method rather than scratching the surface of several techniques. Give it a try, and go a little bit extreme. Break away from the conventional and search for ways to compose images that harness the power of Engineered Disorder in your photography. Please share your results in the comments below.

The post An Unconventional Composition Technique to Improve Your Photos by Erin Fitzgibbon appeared first on Digital Photography School.


7 Tips – How to Add Depth and Dimension into Your Photos

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

Photographers have the same dilemma that painters have faced for centuries – how to show a three-dimensional subject in a two-dimensional frame. When you add depth it helps create a sense of place and draw the viewer into your images. It also shows a deeper understanding of the principles of composition in photography.

The techniques and tips listed in this article will help you convey a stronger sense of depth in your photos.

1. Use leading lines

One of the easiest ways to convey depth in an image is to use a wide-angle lens and include lines that move from the bottom of the frame to the top. This technique is used mainly in landscape and architectural photos.

how to add depth and dimension in composition

The lines don’t have to be obvious. Take this photo as an example.

The rocks form natural lines that lead the eye from the foreground to the island on the horizon.

how to add depth and dimension in composition leading lines

In the image below, the waterways in the middle distance take the eye through the photo to the distant mountains. They are meandering, rather than straight, which helps give the image a more organic feel that fits well with the theme of landscape.

how to add depth and dimension in composition

2. Use perspective

This photo demonstrates how lines can add depth in a different way.

how to add depth and dimension in composition - perspective

The buildings form converging lines that disappear towards the horizon, creating a sense of depth very effectively. This technique is similar to an artist’s use of perspective. I’ve added lines so you can see how it works.

how to add depth and dimension in composition - perspective

3. Think foreground, middle ground, and background

Most photographers are familiar with the rule of thirds, but when it comes to conveying a sense of depth it is helpful to break the photo up into a different set of thirds – the foreground, middle ground, and background. What you’re looking for is a way of connecting the three that pulls the eye through the photo. Having three distinct zones in the image helps create a sense of depth, three dimensionality.

Leading lines are one way of doing this, but lines are not always present in a scene. When that happens you need to look for something else. Often, that simply means including something interesting in the foreground.

For example, in this photo, there are some buildings in the background, a concrete jetty in the middle, and the edge of another jetty in the foreground. I included the last one deliberately to help create a sense of depth.

how to add depth and dimension in composition

Here’s another example below. Including the rocks in the foreground creates a composition with three distinct zones (foreground, middle ground, and background) that the eye moves through, creating depth in the image. It helps that the wide-angle lens that was used makes the rocks seem quite large in comparison to the distant cliffs.

Depth and composition

4. Use aerial perspective

Another technique that helps convey a sense of depth is aerial (or atmospheric) perspective. This is where the atmospheric conditions make things in the distance appear hazy. When you see this occur, it is a good idea to see if you can find a way to include it in your composition. In this photo, taken in Beijing, you can see that the trees in the distance on the left side are obscured by atmospheric haze.

how to add depth and dimension in composition  - aerial perspective

This is reinforced by the converging lines formed by the walls. The two techniques are working together to show depth in the image.

how to add depth and dimension in composition  - aerial perspective and lines

5. Shoot through something

The techniques explored so far work best with wide-angle lenses. The nature of a telephoto lens is that it puts distance between you and the subject, which leads to a flatter perspective that doesn’t show depth as well as a wide-angle lens. But there are different techniques you can use with telephoto lenses to create a sensation of depth.

One method is to shoot through something that is between you and the subject. In the photo below, the subject is the setting sun. I shot through grass (and focused on the grass, throwing the sun slightly out of focus) to add a sense of depth to what otherwise could have been a very flat image.

how to add depth and dimension in composition  - telephoto

The photo also makes a good use of another technique, including shadows in the frame, to reinforce the depth.

You can also use this technique with portraits. I created the portrait below by shooting through the branches of a tree.

Depth and composition

6. Use selective focus

Both of the photos shown for the previous technique also use selective focus. That’s where you deliberately set a narrow aperture and focus on the subject, throwing the background out of focus. It’s especially effective with portraits, as the blurred background helps separate the model from the background, in turn creating a sense of depth. The following portrait was taken at f/2.0 with the lens focused on the model’s eyes.

Depth and composition

7. Convey depth through color

It’s also useful to think about what happens to colors in the background when you use a telephoto lens with a narrow aperture to make a portrait. When the background is out of focus, colors merge into each other. A good contrast between the colors in the background and those the model is wearing also helps convey depth.

For example, in the next portrait the use of color is very subtle. The background is nearly white, without any distracting colors. It is out of focus and doesn’t distract from the model’s face. His sweater is the most colorful part of the photo, and helps separate him from the background.

Depth and composition

You can take this idea to its extreme by using off-camera flash fitted with an orange gel. When you do this, the model is lit by orange light (from the gelled flash), but the background is lit by colder ambient light. This technique works well at dusk when the ambient light has a natural blue color.

In the example below, the model was lit by single Speedlite fitted with a 60cm softbox and a CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gel.

Depth and composition

Your turn

These seven tips should help you create stronger photos with more depth. What other ideas do you have for creating and adding depth into your photos? Please let us know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about composition then please check out my ebook Mastering Composition.

The post 7 Tips – How to Add Depth and Dimension into Your Photos by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Create Stronger Photos by Working the Subject

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

One way to create better compositions, and thus stronger images, is to do something called working the subject. Generally speaking, there are two ways to approach taking photos. Let’s take a look at both, and how you can learn to work the subject to improve your photography.

The first is to take as many photos as you can, in the hope that some of them turn out well. This is called machine-gunning, or spray and pray. It’s easier to do with digital cameras than it ever was with film cameras, as you are no longer limited by the number of frames on a roll of film.

Working the subject

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons often cited as a benefit of using film cameras. Knowing that every time you press the shutter button it adds to the cost of the shoot (processing plus film) is a good incentive to be more intentional and think carefully before you take a photo.

The second way is to take plenty of photos, but in a way that is more purposeful. The idea is to think about what you are doing and spend your time exploring the possibilities and potential of the subject. This is called working the subject.

Try new photography techniques

The dividing line between the two methods is sometimes a thin one. An example of this may be when you are trying a new technique, such as panning. Panning is a bit of a hit and miss technique. If you’ve chosen a good subject you should create some interesting photos, but you’re also going to get a lot of misses along the way.

The difference in this situation is that the photographer who is working the subject looks at the photos they have taken already, evaluates what works and what doesn’t, and adjusts their techniques and camera settings accordingly.

Another way of looking at it is that they are using the earlier photos as stepping stones to get to the more interesting images. A photographer who is machine-gunning, on the other hand, doesn’t think a lot about what they are doing and relies on serendipity rather than their own skill.

This is where the instant feedback of digital cameras is a useful tool for learning and improving.

Panning in Spain

Let me illustrate the point with some photos I made in Spain. I stood in the sea at sunset and panned with my camera as the waves came by. I took a lot of photos, and these are some of my favorites.


Working the subject

Working the subject

These images were created by working the subject. Doing so helped me figure out where to stand, what angle to use, how slowly to pan the camera, and the best shutter speed to use.

Photographing an old car

Working the subject doesn’t necessarily mean that you take lots of photos. Let me give you an example.

I bought a Fuji X-Pro 1 camera a couple of years ago and took it out one evening at dusk with the intention of shooting at high ISO in low light to see how it performed (the answer – very well). As I was walking around my local neighborhood I noticed an interesting car parked on the street. Intrigued (and wondering how a Lada ended up in New Zealand) I took this photo.

Working the subject

It’s nothing special, but I knew there was a better picture there. I kept looking and realized that what had really caught my eye was the way the light from the street lamp reflected off the roof of the car. So, I moved in closer and created the following images. They all contain the reflection of the street lamp and just part of the car rather than all of it.

Working the subject

Working the subject

Working the subject

Then I took another photo of the rear of the car.

Working the subject

Analysis of the shoot

I only made five photos, but I was still working the subject. When I break it down and think about what happened the process went something like this.

  1. I saw something interesting and took a photo. That was just my first impression. My gut feeling told me that there was a better photo to be had.
  2. I looked closely until I realized that the real subject, the thing that really interested me, was the way the street light was reflected in the car’s paintwork. So, I moved in close and made several photos that showed that.
  3. Lastly, I moved away from the car and took another photo, which was okay but not as good as the others. I understood that I had gotten what I wanted and decided to move on to look for another subject.

The last point is crucial because one of the differences between working the subject and machine-gunning is that the photographer who is working the subject knows when to stop.

Working the subject in China

Here’s another set of images taken in Beijing. We were visiting a historic site called Prince Gong’s Mansion, made up of a series of interconnected buildings, courtyards, and gardens.

One of the courtyards contained some Tibetan style prayer wheels. I noticed that as people walked into the courtyard most of them passed by the prayer wheels, turning them as they went. I stood nearby and took some candid portraits of people doing so.

Working the subject

Of course, some of the photos are better than others, and I’m going to show you some of my favorites below. But there were also many times that I looked at the scene through the viewfinder and it wasn’t quite right, so I didn’t press the shutter.

One benefit of this method is that you don’t have as many photos to sort through and edit afterward. But it also shows discipline and an awareness of the subject. A machine-gunning photographer would take photos of everyone, without thinking about it much.

The photographer who is working the subject, and being more purposeful, is thinking about how to make each photo better than the one before. They may also be thinking about how the images are going to work together, or whether they should use a different technique, a different lens, or find a different point of view to add variety to the sequence of photos.

Working the subject


One of the key steps involved in learning to be a better and more creative photographer is knowing when to work the subject rather than machine-gun, and become more purposeful and intentional in your approach to making photos.

Can you think of any other examples of when working the subject can help you to create better images? Please let us know in the comments below.

Mastering Composition

If you’d like to learn more about composition then please check out my ebook Mastering Composition: A Photographer’s Guide to Seeing.

The post How to Create Stronger Photos by Working the Subject by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Compose Better Images and Make your Images More Extraordinary

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

When we think about what goes into making a photograph most often our thoughts leap to camera settings like aperture and shutter speed. “What ISO should I use? Should I incorporate more or less of the foreground and is that tree branch really in the way?” We burden ourselves with the technical, while unfortunately overlooking other elements of the shot which potentially mean more to the outcome of the finished image. In this article, I will share a few of my own images and then break down a few key points that you can use to make your own images more consistently extraordinary. I won’t even mention the word exposure…well, maybe just that once.


Don’t worry, this will not be an overly introspective study of the all the “feelings” which we might pour into making a photo. Instead, this is an examination of the how and why we include what we do in our images and it covers some of the thought processes which drive our own creative visions. Once we begin to have a general understanding of how our artistic nature approaches composition the better we can work towards refining our own techniques.

Photo #1: The Brooding

The Brooding

This is one of my personal favorite images. It came about very unexpectedly but it would turn out to be one of the most successful photographs of my career thus far. But why? There must be a reason this image was so well received. So let’s break it down and see what can be learned from the composition.

Use leading lines

This is a photographic methodology that has been mentioned many times. Leading lines are simply guideposts within a frame which lead the attention of the viewer to certain elements and essentially direct their attention within the photo itself. Oddly enough, leading lines can be worked into your composition in many ways and there are no set “rules” for using them. But generally, they originate in the foreground and extend into the frame. That isn’t to say that leading lines can’t be horizontal, diagonal, or anywhere in between.

In the case of this image, the lines of the fence and road move from the foreground to the background thereby creating a sense of depth in the mountains. Meanwhile, the horizontal line of the mountains converges with the vertical lines of the road. This helps to highlight the central element of the photo which is the tree.

The Brooding Notes

Don’t fear the weather

It goes without saying that this photo was made during some less than hospitable weather. An incredibly strong mountain thunderstorm had moved through the valley the night before and the rain had just stopped as I made my way out to shoot. Normally, bad weather deters many photographers from venturing out to make images. This is wrong.

When the weather gets rough it brings with it interesting cloud patterns and awesome light that you wouldn’t encounter on clearer days. Not only do the clouds add a sense of moodiness to the photo but the wet asphalt imparts the feeling of the dankness in the morning air after the storm passed. The yellowish post-storm light works well with the hazy mist in the valley which was hanging low after the rain.

Work with proportions

Whenever you begin mentioning words such as proportions, scale, or ratio as they relate to photography – you lose people’s attention. Usually, because it can seem complicated. Stay with me here! Composing your images based on certain aesthetic ratios and proportions isn’t as difficult as it sounds and I’m about to prove it to you. Ratios don’t have to be exact or perfect in every case but can really add that something extra to your photographs.

Golden Spiral Overlay

The image we have here incorporates what’s called the Golden Spiral or a Fibonacci Spiral to add interest and draw attention to the main elements of the composition. It’s a proportion based on the Fibonacci Sequence and it occurs in nature frequently. In this case, the spiral has been tweaked (flipped horizontally) to guide the viewer, yet again, towards the tree and into the distant mountains. Have a look at this overlay set on top of the flipped photo above and you can see how it lines up.

Pretty cool, huh? Try the Golden Spiral or the simpler Rule of Thirds for yourself to see an immediate boost in your compositions.

Photo #2: Summertime


When most people see this photo they either love it, hate it, or say “Adam, your feet are really, really dirty”. It’s true, this was a very impromptu and unorthodox exposure of yours truly as I swayed in my hammock during a hiking trip last summer. Unbelievably, it went on to win First Place Professional in a state magazine a couple months ago. No matter your initial impressions of this image there are still a few important lessons that can be gleaned to help you with your own work.

Find natural framing

This is a close cousin to using leading lines to enhance the viewability of an image. There are many cases when a strong composition makes use of what is referred to as natural framing. This is when a photographer composes certain elements (not always the main subject) in a way so that they are framed by other elements within the shot. Sometimes this framing is obvious, such as when a portrait photographer positions the client in a doorway or when a landscapist places the sunset between two mountain peaks. Other times natural framing is less obvious, as is the case with this image. Look closely.

Summertime Notes

You’ll notice that my beautiful feet occupy the empty space between the hammock at the left and the trees to the right. The empty space created between the structures offers a place for the central subject to really stand out from the rest of the elements of the photo. The lines created by the hammock also help with the overall framing of the image and gives it a very anchored perspective. Speaking of perspective…

Use perspective

This photo was shot using a Rokinon 14mm F/2.8 super wide-angle lens, mounted on a full-frame mirrorless camera. The 14mm focal length bulges the exterior aspects of the frame. This causes the trees to bend in towards the center of the frame. The camera was held relatively close to my feet so that the entire scene seems relatively compressed around them. The overall effect is one of first-hand perspective and allows the viewer feel as if they themselves are swinging in the hammock on a warm summer afternoon…with dirty feet.


Shoot what you want

When I was about to enter this photo into the contest (in which it eventually took first prize from among 2,000 other entries) there were some politely well-worded reservations expressed by some of my friends. Why would anyone want an image of some dirtbag hiker’s feet? Well, when I shot the image I knew it carried the feeling of summer. The earthy remnants of a day’s trek and the welcomed relaxation of a swinging hammock that chases away all worries. I knew the photo fit the theme of the contest which was Summertime. It was an image which I felt was worth entering even though it was slightly unorthodox.

Shoot the images you want to shoot. Hopefully, this is a lesson you already know and have been putting into practice for some time now. If not, now is the perfect time to start.

Photo# 3: The Stars Fell

Falling Stars

On the night this image was made my girlfriend and I had been out chasing the Milky Way through the mountains. There was nothing planned as far as a self-portrait was concerned. This was one of the last photos to be made that night and it came about completely by accident. It is the only exposure I made of us under the stars, which to me makes it even more special, but I digress.

Incorporate the environment

Consider your environment as another subject and use it to enhance the image. This may go without saying when working with landscapes or nature photography, but it can’t be overstated when it comes to portraiture and working with human subjects in general. In the case of this image, the stars wheeling overhead become almost a completely separate subject. Add in the human element and it produces a wonderful duality between man (or woman) and nature.

Here we see a few of the environmental elements which came together in the photo. Some of them may be familiar.

Falling Stars Notes

Open yourself up

Let’s face it, not everything goes to plan. There have likely been many times a shot didn’t pan out, your camera wasn’t set on the ISO you needed, or the light faded before you could click the shutter. Other times everything goes completely to plan. So much goes to plan in fact, that you consider it a job well done and stop thinking creatively.

While it’s great when everything goes right, we shouldn’t stop looking for the next exceptional image. Be open to those great moments that produce great work even if they go beyond what you had set out to do originally.

We were on the verge of packing up and heading back to camp when I had the idea for our spur of the moment self-portrait. I had already produced all the images I wanted to make so we had chalked it up as a success. But as it turns out, the image I never intended to make that night ended up being the best.


Trust your instincts

The reason this photo came about was due to a feeling I had that the image was there before I made the exposure. I was told later that my exact words were, “Want to try something weird?”

Even though it had already been a successful night of shooting the stars I knew there was one more frame to take and that frame should include us. It wasn’t something that was planned but it turned out being one my most cherished images to date.

When shooting any type of image it always pays to go with your gut. More often than not, your instincts will be right. If it feels like a photographic opportunity is presenting itself then it’s usually a good idea to follow your intuition and pursue the idea. Don’t think you have astute instincts? Don’t worry. They will develop and mature as you do as a photographer.



Remember, strong images are made by more than just perfect camera settings. Begin looking beyond your exposure and aperture to understand how your photos impact you and ultimately the viewer. The methods mentioned above will give you a great start to producing consistently better images time and time again.

The post How to Compose Better Images and Make your Images More Extraordinary by Adam Welch appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Use a Limited Color Palette to Compose Strong Images

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

There are lots of ways to use color in photography. One is to look for strong, complementary colors – those on opposing sides of the color wheel – and include them in the same frame. The opposite is to use a very limited color palette.

Here’s an example of the first approach. There’s a green background, purple petals, and yellow stamen. Three strong colors, working together to create an image that has good impact, because of color contrast.

Limited color palette

Limited color palette approach

But the approach is the opposite. Instead of including several strong, contrasting colors the idea is to use a much more limited color palette. You can do this with strong colors, as in this example below, where the dominant color is red.

Limited color palette

Or you can do it with much more subtle colors, as in this photo.

Limited color palette

Either way, the result is a strong image with an intelligent use of color.

Many photographers move away from using saturated, contrasting colors towards a more limited and subtle palette as their skills and vision evolve. As you look at the work of other photographers, especially professionals, you’ll find that a limited color palette is a mark of maturity and sophistication.

Color in the landscape

Landscape photography is a genre that is synonymous with saturated color. Back before digital, one of the most popular films for landscape photography was Fuji Velvia – a slide film noted for its contrasty, saturated images.

In the modern era techniques like HDR and software like Lightroom and Photoshop help us create saturated, contrasty images. Often that’s what you’ll see.

But what about exploring the subtleties of light and landscape?

For example, instead of photographing the setting sun try waiting until after it has set. The colors are softer. If you have a clear sky the entire landscape may be bathed in a golden glow. The result is a much more subtle use of color.

Limited color palette

Another technique is to explore the possibilities offered by bad weather.

I took the photo below in a town in southern Chile called Puerto Aysen. It rains a lot there, even in summer. When I took the photo it was raining. But the soft light captures the mood of the region well. The color palette is limited and dominated by green. Subtle contrast is provided by the colors of the painted boats.

Limited color palette

Limited color palettes and portraiture

Think about the use of color carefully in portraiture. Here you have much more control than you do with the landscape, as you can ask your model to wear specific items of clothing. You also get to choose the background.

If you haven’t decided in advance what your model is going to wear, a good tip is to ask them to bring along several options. Then you can choose the most appropriate outfit.

Here, I liked the model’s unusual hat. I positioned her against a neutral background so that the green hat was the strongest, most dominant color in the composition.

Limited color palette

Still life and color

Here’s a simple still life that I took in a restaurant in New Zealand. I liked the way the wooden platter and wooden table went together. The colorful fruit contrasts nicely with the neutral tones of the wood.

The photo shows another composition technique in action, one that I touched upon in the earlier portrait section. It’s the technique of composing the photo so that a single strong color is placed against a neutral or gray background. You then have a photo with a subtle color palette consisting of gray (or neutral tones, like the wooden table) and a single, dominant color.

Limited color palette

This leads to my next point, which is an important one. One of the keys to using a limited or subtle color palette is to develop your observation skills. The photos shown so far have one thing in common – I saw the subtle colors and framed the photo in a way that uses them well.

This an important skill to develop. One thing that elevates the work of the best photographers above everybody else is composition. Observation and composition go together. The more you learn to observe the world, and see how color, texture, tonal contrast, and the other building blocks of composition work together, the better your composition will be. In turn, this helps you create stronger, more memorable photos.

Lightroom and color

Don’t forget that Lightroom gives you several tools for controlling color.

The Camera Calibration panel is very important when it comes to processing Raw files. For most cameras, you will see Profile options like Landscape, Standard, Portrait, Neutral, and Faithful (with variations depending on camera model). Selecting Landscape gives you stronger, more saturated colors. Selecting Neutral or Faithful gives you more subtle, true to life colors.

You can also use the Saturation and Vibrance sliders in the Basic panel to reduce the intensity of colors.

The photos below show the difference it makes.

Limited color palette

Limited color palette

The first was processed with the Profile set to Velvia (the equivalent of the Landscape setting on my Fujifilm X-T1). The second was processed with the Profile set to Astia, which gives softer colors, and Vibrance set to -12. You can see the difference, the colors in the second version are softer and more subtle.

The HSL / Color / B&W panel lets you target and adjust the saturation of specific hues. In this portrait example below, I used the Targeted Adjustment Tool to lower the saturation of the background, reducing the amount of blue in the photo. The result is that the model’s pink dress becomes the strongest color in the image. Reducing the saturation of blue simplifies the color palette and makes a stronger image.

Limited color palette

Hopefully, this article will help you understand that there is more to color than getting as much of it in the photo as possible. There’s plenty of room for using a more subtle approach and limiting the number of colors included in the frame.

Do you have any ideas for ways to use a limited color palette or subtle colors in your photos? Please let us know in the comments.

Mastering Composition

If you’d like to learn more about color and composition then please check out my ebook Mastering Composition: A Photographer’s Guide to Seeing.

The post How to Use a Limited Color Palette to Compose Strong Images by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Pushing your Composition to the Edge

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

The world is filled with photographs. I did a bit of research and found the following statistic. Researchers estimate that the average individual is now exposed to approximately 250 different images per day. It’s no secret that we are now inundated with visual stimulus. Everyone owns a camera and everyone is shooting images. In 1857 Francis Frith took photographs of the pyramids and the Sphinx. The general public was mesmerized by images of a faraway and exotic location. Today, if I search “Images of the Pyramids” I get 7 million results; everyone knows what the pyramids look like. This whole phenomenon translates into a challenge for photographers. How do you shoot something different and unique when the world uploads 1.8 billion photographs a day?

Image 7

There is no easy answer. I don’t know how many times I have heard someone say, “That’s a beautiful image of the shoreline. You are a really great photographer but take a look at this. I shot the same thing last year on vacation.” Some photographers may become frustrated with this occurrence, but perhaps we should look upon this as a challenge. What can you do to make your photographs more unique?

Live on the edge – of composition

We all want people to view our images and say, “That’s amazing! I’ve never seen that before!” It’s going to be tough but it’s worth a try. It’s time to push your composition skills to their limits. Consider using techniques or viewpoints that are a little unconventional. Try pushing the main subject of your composition towards the edge of your frame. Let’s consider this photograph of a kayaker.

Image 1

In this version, the image is composed using the rule of thirds. The scene has a pretty unique atmosphere as the sun struggles to break through the morning mist. Shouldn’t that be enough to make the viewer stop and take notice? It’s a beautiful image and it was a fantastic morning. I know people will love this image. But what if it was recomposed to push the kayaker to the edge of the frame? Does this make the image even more appealing? Consider the difference.

Image 2

This second image is cropped way down to illustrate a point. What did you look at first? Hopefully, your answer is the red light on the left of the frame and then your eye moved over the image to discover the kayaker. This technique is called “the delay” which means that the viewer is delayed by other details before focusing on the main subject. This means that the viewer notices the details in a much slower and more deliberate manner. You might even create the emotion of surprise when your viewer discovers the full extent of your composition. That’s a good thing. Creating emotions within the viewer ensures they will remember your image.

When the rule of thirds is not the best choice

Let’s take a look at another image. In this case the main subject, the flower bud, has been pushed right to the edge of the frame.

Image 3 Image 4

By placing the main subject closer to the edge of the frame you can create more tension within your image (above left). The image is certainly more dynamic and interesting than this conventional version which focuses on placing the flower bud along the rule of thirds (above right).

In this shot of the boxer and his trainer I was disappointed and considered it a failure because it didn’t follow any of the rules of composition. The autofocus locked onto the training gloves, not the boxer. But after consultation with the magazine editor, he decided to use it because the angle was so unique. The composition told the story in a different way. Notice the trainer’s nose is just in view in the top corner. The editor loved that element and it sealed his choice.

Image 5

Sometimes you will be surprised by what works.

Finding the right balance

Of course, there are times when this technique doesn’t work and the resulting image just feels unbalanced and awkward. This image of a decaying pier in Lake Huron is a good example of when placing the subject close to the edge unbalances the shot.

Image 6

There’s just too much visual weight placed on the right side of the frame and the image is not successful. But that’s okay because at least something was learned about the importance of creating visual balance when pushing the subject matter to the very edge of the frame. Try to balance the weight of the object along the edge with the visual weight of the rest of the space.


Image 9

However, you choose to compose your images the challenge will always be to create something unique that stands out from the crowd. The reality is the crowd of images is only going to get bigger.

Are you up to the challenge? Are you willing to continue experimenting with the methods you use for composing your images? I say push things a little further each time you take a photograph and experiment with how you can use the edge of the image to create interest in your work.

Please share your compose on the edge images and thoughts in the comments below.

The post Pushing your Composition to the Edge by Erin Fitzgibbon appeared first on Digital Photography School.