Photography 101: 10 Tips For Clarifying Composition

We’ve already told you about what know with your ISO, your DSLR dial, and your aperture — and now it’s time for a lesson in composition, kids!

1. The Rule of Thirds

Imagine cutting your photo into thirds with lines, both horizontally and vertically, equally into 9 segments. The rule suggests that you should position the most important elements of your scene along these lines, and more importantly, where they intersect. Naturally, your eye is drawn to these intersection points — therefore if you’re most important elements are positioned there, the person viewing the photograph will be drawn to those elements easily. Some cameras even offer a superimposed rule of third grid over the LCD screen if you have trouble imagining it in your mind.

[Example via Photography Mad]

2. Balancing Elements

When placing subjects or important elements within your framing, you want to make sure that the “weight” of the photo is balanced. If you place an object off center (as you would using the rule of thirds), it can cause the rest of the photograph to feel empty. You want to try and fill the space with another object(s) so that it does not feel too “heavy” on one side or the other.

[Photo example via The Marcy Stop]

3. Leading Lines

The human eye is naturally drawn along lines — and by putting thought into how you place lines in your composition, you can affect the viewer’s “journey” through the scene. Different types of lines, whether it be straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag, or radial can be used to direct the eyes toward certain objects within in the frame.

[Photo example via The Sartorialist]

4. Symmetry and Patterns

Symmetry and patterns can make for  a captivating photo compositions, especially when they are naturally made and unexpected. On the other hand, breaking a pattern can also create tension, and make for a thought-provoking photograph.

[Photo example via Altamira]

5. Point-of-view

The viewpoint in which you take the photo doesn’t have to only be eye level, in fact getting creative with your viewpoint can make for a far more interesting photo. Changing whether the point-of-view is from the side, back, high above, down low, close up, or far away can also completely change the message being conveyed.

[Photo example via Downtown From Behind]

6. Background

Sometimes, when taking a shot of something busy or with detail (perhaps an accessory!) the main element of the photo is lost because of a distracting background. Sometimes having a simpler and unobtrusive background is best so that it does not detract from your subject.

[Photo example via Garance Dore]

7. Depth

Composing a photograph so that it has depth can make your two-dimensional photograph feel more like the actual scene. So, how do you create depth? By including objects in the foreground, middle ground and background.

[Photo example via Tuula]

8. Framing

The world is full of objects which make perfect natural frames — and by placing these around the edge of the composition, you help draw the eye to the isolated main subject.

[Photo example via We Wore What]

9. Cropping

Often a photo will lack impact because the main subject is so small it becomes lost among the clutter of its surroundings. By cropping tight around the subject you eliminate the background “noise”, ensuring the subject gets the viewer’s undivided attention.

[Photo example via Jak & Jil]

10. Experimentation

Experiment! Experiment! Experiment! If your camera is digital, it doesn’t cost anything to take a bunch of photos and delete them if you don’t like them. That being said, these suggestions are helpful for coming up with creative solutions if you’re feeling like your photos need some change up, but go ahead and break the rules and let your creative juices flow!

[Photo example via Gary Pepper Vintage]

[Source via Photography Mad]

About The Author

Profile photo of Chelsea Burcz

24 Responses

  1. Profile photo of moiminnie
    moiminnie

    This is an amazing article! Right on point and so many people can benefit from your guide! I’m a stylist but really into photography and I literally cringe when I see awfully done photos with expensive DSLRs. Everyone should know the basics and your photography articles are just the right place to start!
    http://www.moiminnie.blogspot.com
    xx

    Reply
  2. Profile photo of Sarah's Real Life
    Sarah's Real Life

    I really like this! I think about composition when planning and editing my outfit photos, but I wasn’t thinking about all these things in so much detail. It was more of a “hey, this looks good…” I will definitely think about these tips from now on. Thanks!

    Sarah’s Real Life

    Reply
  3. Ana

    I really appreciate all the photography articles – they explain the fundamentals while not getting in so deep as to begin being scary.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Mike Panic

    Here’s a tip from a fashion photographer: When taking photos of people, get down on one knee. From street photography to studio work, people will almost always look better when the camera is held around waist level.

    Second tip, turn your flash on when shooting people outside! The flash on your camera isn’t just for inside / dark areas, it’s best to fill in the shadows created from late morning through mid-afternoon sun.

    Reply
  5. Donna

    Good information! I’ve taken several photography classes but it’s been years and I’d forgotten some of these things. Also it’s hard for me to know what results I’m going to get when I’m taking photos of myself with a tripod. I still haven’t found a spot where I can find something to focus on that I can then stand in front of when I take the shot. (Living in the country I don’t have too many options.)
    But practice makes most of us better so I’ll keep reading and keep practicing! Thanks again.
    Donna
    http://www.prettysparklythings.blogspot.com

    Reply
  6. Profile photo of WorkOfStyle
    WorkOfStyle

    This post is so helpful as I totally suck in photography! I will definitely train, follow these tips and try to get better with my photography :)

    Reply
  7. Rachel W.

    The good advice continues! I had only ever heard about the rule of thirds before, and when I compose a good photo, it’s usually by accident. Maybe by deploying some of these ideas, I can get some good shots and remember how to replicate them!

    I would love to hear any further advice on composition and taking interesting shots. I don’t have a fancy camera yet, but I can work on composition even while I save for my DSLR, right?

    Reply
  8. Profile photo of CynthiaCM
    CynthiaCM

    Can we have a lesson on how to photograph well if you don’t have another photographer? In other words – how do you take nice pics of YOURSELF if all you have is a tripod and remote?

    Reply
    • Profile photo of Amanda Boyce
      Amanda Boyce

      Hi! Learning these skills are pretty important for you even if you aren’t taking photos of yourself. The more you understand how to frame a picture and the basics of depth-of-field, the more educated you are as a photographer (and blogger).

      Reply
      • Profile photo of CynthiaCM
        CynthiaCM

        True, but it’s definitely harder when you’re working with a remote, since you aren’t seeing what you’re shooting – even if you’ve used a stand in (e.g. a lamp on a stool). It’s just not the same as having someone BEHIND the camera who can adjust focus, zoom, etc…

  9. Profile photo of naturallyglamddiva
    naturallyglamddiva

    Thanks so much, I have been blogging for about a year now. Naturallyglammeddiva.wordpress.com
    I love to take photographs but, never took the time out to learn more about taking pictures correctly and the ins an outs of my camera.
    Today I picked it back up, thanks to your suggestions.
    Thanks!

    Reply

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