In this article, you’ll get 7 tips for how you can improve your photos immediately by checking your composition. It costs nothing and only takes a few seconds to do. It’s about making it a practice every time you shoot.
The key is to review your image carefully, refine the composition as necessary and take another shot. Follow these 7 steps next time you’re out shooting and see if your second (or third, or fourth) shot isn’t indeed better than the first one.
#1 – Check your exposure with the histogram
Make sure your image isn’t under or overexposed. You also need to ensure that it’s exposed properly to represent the scene you’re photographing like the example below.
But you need to avoid judging the exposure just by reviewing the image on the screen. Your camera’s screen brightness can be adjusted so it may not reflect accurately. For example, if you have the screen brightness set high, the image may look well-exposed but may in fact be too dark.
That’s why you want to use the histogram – it never lies! If you need help understanding exposure compensation and reading the histogram – check out this article. Why is the snow grey in my winter photos?
#2 – Zoom in to check focus and sharpness
Check for critical focus and make sure you enough depth of field. Play the image back on your LCD screen and zoom in on it using the “+” button (it may be a little magnifying glass) to make sure the subject is sharp.
Often the image will look crisp on the camera’s small screen but upon reviewing it on your computer you may find that you missed the focus slightly or there isn’t enough of the scene that’s sharp. That may mean you need more depth of field (more sharpness in front of and behind the subject) so adjust your settings to use a smaller aperture and take another shot.
If you need help getting sharper images overall read this: 6 Tips for Finding Focus and Getting Sharp Images.
#3 – Check the edges of your frame carefully
Often unwanted things creep into the image and get missed. So scan the edges and corners looking for stuff that doesn’t belong. Then adjust your framing or composition as needed.
Consider that may actually mean moving yourself and the camera, picking up some trash, hold a branch out of the way, etc. But it’s easier to do these things when you’re shooting than try and “fix” it later in your editing software.
Or you might need to zoom in a little or crop tighter on the subject. Yes, you can do that easily in the processing phase but then you will lose pixels and overall image size and quality. So example your cropping carefully in-camera and maximize the frame.
#4 – Look at the image upside down
By that I mean, invert the camera and literally view the image upside down. I suggest this because your eye is naturally drawn to four things in an image. When those things appear in the background it will take attention away from the subject. They are:
By viewing the image upside down it tricks your brain into seeing what stands out the most in the image, regardless of the fact that you know what the subject is and where you want people to look.
So if something jumps out at you this way, you may want to consider adjusting your composition to make the subject more prominent and removing that thing that stood out. Usually, it’s a bright area in the background.
Read more about this here: How to Quickly Improve Your Images by Checking the Background.
#5 – Get closer!
Ask yourself, is the subject big enough in the frame? Does it fill at least 30% of the image or more? If not, then the subject will likely be lost or unidentifiable by anyone else viewing your image. You know what you were shooting, but it has to be obvious to others as well.
For example, a pretty flower in a field that’s only 5% of the image won’t stand out as the subject. So what you need to do 99% of the time is to simply GET CLOSER!
This is the same field as the image above, can you see the difference? The bright sky has been removed and the flower is clearly the subject now.
One of the biggest newbie mistakes is creating images that are too busy. There is no center of interest, and there’s too much included in the image to have a clear subject. So just simplify. Get closer, and see your images improve by leaps and bounds.
#6 – Make sure your image has a sense of depth
Photography is a 2-dimensional media, with which you are trying to capture a 3-dimensional world. So in order to create images that people are drawn to you need to make sure they have a feeling of depth. The viewer needs to feel as if they can walk right into the scene.
You can do that in a number of different ways. By using light to highlight the subject, adding scale or perspective to your image, using a shallow depth of field, etc. Read more about adding a sense of depth to your images here.
Using a wide-angle lens will help with this, but you need to make sure your composition is strong. It’s easy to come back with images that have depth but lack a clear subject when shooting wide. Read this for tips: 5 Mistakes Beginners Make Using a Wide Angle Lens and Tips For How to Avoid Them.
You want to have something close to the camera (foreground), something a medium distance away (mid-ground), and of course something farther away (background). That will create a feeling of depth like you see above.
#7 – Check your camera angle
In this digital age, there is a mentality of “I’ll fix it later in Photoshop” which tends to create lazy photographers. Yes, there are many things you can fix in the processing stage, but there are also many others you cannot! At least not very quickly or easily.
No matter what you do, you cannot fix it if the wrong lens was used. I.E. If the background isn’t blurred because a wide-angle was used you can blur it in Photoshop but you can’t change the angle of view or lens distortion.
If there was bad lighting and harsh shadows that’s a tough fix. You can dodge and burn or clone like a madman, but why would you want to do that when just slowing down when you are shooting can solve a lot of those problems instantly.
So check to see if there a tree growing out of the subject’s head. Think about whether the image would be better shot from a higher or lower camera angle. Move the camera around to see how it looks a little to the right or left (objects in the frame will move in relation to one another). Then choose your final shooting position.
Read our collection: Photo composition articles
In summary, just remember to do one thing – slow down!
Pause when you take a photo and review it. Make yourself a little index card with these seven tips as a reminder if that helps or print it out and put it in your camera bag.
This is called intentional photography and it will go a long way to helping you create better, more powerful images.