How you arrange the elements in your photo can make or break the success of your image. In this article, you’ll get some great tips to help you do better composition of your photos starting right now!
Composition is one of the easiest things you can focus on to improve your photography immediately – without having to buy more gear! I found some great tips in the videos below, ones that I teach as well, which are easy to practice no matter your current photography skill level.
9 Quick Composition Tips From a Master Photographer
This short video from the folks at COOPH features nine quick tips with examples based on the work of master photographer, Steve McCurry.
NOTE: He’s been the subject of a lot of controversy in recent years, but be that as it may – he is still an amazing photographer with an amazing eye and you can learn from his work.
9 Photo Composition Tips
- Rule of thirds
- Leading lines
- Figure to ground
- Fill the frame
- Center the dominant eye
- Patterns and repetition
8 Simple Tips for Better Composition
This next video from Jamie Windsor has some really great ideas on how to make better photos. Some of the things he mentions are not often discussed in terms of composition yet they are extremely important.
NOTE: Make note of the names of the photographers whose images are shown in the video. Then go look them up and browse more of their work to study more about why composition matters. See how it all comes into play to make a great image.
Things covered in this video:
- Get your position right – where you position the camera and yourself matters and is not something you can fix later if you get it wrong. The tree growing out of your subject’s head for example.
- Use your phone – I LOVE this tip! Your eyes see in 3D but your phone sees in 2D. Use it to help you compose, then take the image with your camera. Brilliant.
- Beware of the rule of thirds – just using the rule of thirds doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have a good image. See why in the video, and how to solve the problem.
- Squint and blur your eyes – YES! I recommend doing that when you are editing as well, this is a great tip. It helps you to see the scene in an abstract form of just light tones and colors which in turn help you to compose a better image.
- Think conceptually – why are you taking this image? What do you want people to see or feel?
- Keep it simple – don’t include anything in the frame that isn’t relevant or important. Eliminate distractions.
- Watch the edges of the frame – don’t cut things off near the edge of the image. Keep the edges clean.
- Learn how to do good post-production – you can crop later, flip the image, tone down distracting colors, clone out unwanted elements, etc.
This is a photography educator after my own heart! If you’ve been following me for a while you’ve likely heard me say many of those same things. SO – if you keep hearing the same tip over and over – ask yourself, “Am I doing that?” If not – start!
At the 7:08 mark in the video above, notice the image of the old staircase. I have photographed that same spot twice (see above and below)!
It is in Havana, Cuba and we have used this as a photography location and had dinner here with my tour groups. There’s a famous restaurant just up those stairs and this building is a popular location for photography and video shoots.
As a side note, I also want to show you the before and after of the image above. I saw the powerlines and thought that Luminar Neo would do a great job of removing them with one click – I was right!
The Secret to Finding Good Composition – Practice
Photography teacher Mike Browne also teaches one of my favorite techniques that I recommend. I call it Shoot Around the Subject and you can use this tip to make an interesting image anywhere, even in the most cluttered or boring location.
Watch as Mike demonstrates this technique in the video below. See how he approaches each potential subject and takes multiple images, from different angles, using different focal lengths.
NOTE: If you have my free PDF ebook 10 Photography Challenges you’ll recognize this one. Click the link to download the ebook if you haven’t already got it.
So go out and just start taking photos. Let the scene evolve and see how it can be photographed. Look for a subject and make it interesting! You do that.
For more practice try this: Make the Ordinary Look Extraordinary – Photography Challenge
The Secret to Great Compositions in Boring Locations
I found this video by photographer Manny Ortiz and he takes the squint your eyes tip to the next level with this tip!
Watch this now to see how he uses manual focus to take blurry photos of a scene to find good backgrounds! This is brilliant, I’m going to use it myself and am mad I didn’t think of this myself.
How great is that? I love how he shows the scene out of focus first, then adds the model to the scene with the same framing, but focused on her!
I talked about doing something similar by squinting your eyes or turning the image upside down in this article: How to Quickly Improve Your Images by Checking the Background.
Conclusion and Plan of Action
By now you should have some good ideas of how to improve your photo composition, right? So what are you going to DO with all this new information?
I suggest you get out and go put it into practice.
Here’s my challenge to you:
- Pick one of the tips you picked up from the videos above .
- Grab your camera and get outside.
- Go shoot for an hour or more trying to use just that one tip or idea.
- Keep it simple and don’t get distracted.
- Rinse and repeat – pick a new tip tomorrow or the next day and go do the exercise again with that one.
- Keep doing it until oyu have tried them all.
- Then go review all the images you made doing this practice exercise and see if your photography has improved from the beginning to the end. I’m guessing that will be a big yes.
If you still want more composition tips, check out Andrew Gibson’s store. He has written quite a few articles for us and has some ebooks on this topic!