If you’re interested in capturing powerful photos, then consider implementing the tips outlined below. Although composition is an individualistic creative endeavor with no definitive universal dos and don’ts, there are certain techniques that can help improve your images – from forming a vision to fine-tuning your photography composition on site.
The aim here is simple: ensure that your final image effectively communicates its message as clearly as possible!
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Table of content 📷
- Be Mindful of Your Choices
- Simplify It
- Composition with Simplicity
- Light Changes
- Achieving Composition Symmetry
- Focus on the Edges
- Emphasize Contrast, Tone and Color
- Master the Art of Eye-catching Composition
- Establish a Plan for the Composition
- Observe Repeated Designs
- Place the Tripod to match Your Shot’s Composition
- Don’t stop Moving
- Provide Space Around Your Subjects for Visual Interest
- Unify the Emotion of your photos
- Polish Your Composition
Before you can snap a picture that achieves success, start with an objective in mind. Picture the frame that will embody your desired result and take action to bring it forth. This is known as visualization – use this ability to help make your vision become tangible!
Photography can be daunting to learn, requiring you to become intimately familiar with your camera, post-processing techniques and output characteristics. It demands a fair bit of practice – so much in fact that you’ll have the ability to envisage the final image before taking it!
Cultivating superior visualization skills is worth the effort. Once you are out in the field, you will understand precisely what needs to be done to enhance your photograph during post-processing. You’d anticipate which elements of your image might cause problems and figure out how best to address them before it’s too late.
Your vision should guide every decision that you make while shooting – with an aim at making it a reality from start to finish.
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1. Be Mindful of Your Choices
When taking a photo, you face numerous choices, some of which are automatic or straightforward and only occasionally relevant (such as deciding to switch memory cards). However, there are other decisions that affect every photo, even if they often go unnoticed.
It is best to make as many unconscious decisions conscious, recognizing that every choice in photography brings the photo closer to your desired outcome.
This involves not only composition and creativity, but also the technical decisions that significantly impact the mood and overall appearance of your photos. It can be said that every technical decision is a creative decision in disguise, as it indeed is.
It’s essential to stay mindful of the decisions you make while taking photos. Rather than reach for your usual camera settings just because they worked well in a previous image, take some time to consider what focal length will capture exactly what you envision best.
As much care should be taken with every decision thereafter as well; don’t let them fall by the wayside on autopilot!
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2. Simplify It.
Your vision for a photo is simply expressing what message you want to convey to the viewer. What feelings or emotions do you hope to evoke? What mood or concept do you want your photo to showcase? This is where keeping it simple comes into play.
As you make deliberate decisions to bring your vision to life, don’t forget that the emotional impact of your message will be lost if it’s too complicated to understand. Strip your idea down to its core and eliminate any elements from the photo that detract from what you’re trying to say.
Simplicity can often be the key to enhancing your compositions. Before you take the shot, but after you have a clear idea of your message, check for any distractions in the frame that might compromise your message.
Remove these distractions from your composition or minimize them as much as possible.
Of course, even in a controlled studio setting, there may be imperfections that appear in the final image. But the earlier you identify these flaws, the less they’ll impact your final photo.
For example, I recently took photos of salt formations at the Dead Sea during sunset. The location was stunning, but a dark peninsula on the left side of the frame made the composition challenging.
As the light changed, I packed up my gear and walked to the tip of the peninsula, which excluded it from the frame. The result was one of my favorite images from the entire trip.
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3. Composition with Simplicity
Although the initial spot had a lot of benefits, its peninsula detracted from my desired message of tranquility and serenity. To better capture this ambiance, I realized that modifying locations was necessary for me to reach simplicity in tone.
Light and color have far-reaching consequences, influencing the ambiance of a photograph. While high contrast gray and blue might be entirely distinct from pastel orange at sunset, both can take place within half an hour of each other! Thus, monitoring the shifting illumination in your scene is critical for capturing stunning shots.
Don’t settle for “both” and capture the same scene the entire time. Maybe there’s an ideal light to take wildlife photographs at sunset, but that can quickly evolve into a better option for landscape photos. If you pay attention to how the lighting changes over time, you are sure to get multiple great shots instead of only one keeper!
Recently, I had the great opportunity to capture some amazing shots of a sunrise from an overlook. The prime landscape was obviously oriented in one particular direction, but that didn’t stop me! Instead of settling for a single good photo and moving on, I decided to set up my camera with a timelapse so I could select the best shot afterwards.
I was overwhelmed with the phenomenal success I had that sunrise, capturing four different stunning shots – more than ever before! This all happened because I paid attention to the changing light and kept on looking for various subjects throughout that morning. It definitely would have been a keeper if only one photo succeeded, however my efforts that day really paid off!
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5. Achieving Composition Symmetry
Carefully consider whether you should craft a balanced or unbalanced composition. Will the image lean to one side, creating an air of anticipation? Or will it have equal weight on both sides, inducing more peace and equilibrium?
The choice is yours; choose wisely!
Achieving a balanced photograph means recognizing and evaluating the visual weight of your setting. Usually, I would prefer my landscapes to be evened out with no hint that it is “tilting” towards one side or another. However, there are some documentary and nature photographers who seek for this unevenness in order for their pictures to become more intense.
Becoming familiar with balance and simplifying the frame should always be your first step when composing a photograph. I believe that mastering these two elements demonstrates an understanding of fundamental composition, as they can create either harmony (balance) or tension (imbalance). For more in-depth information on this subject, please take a look at our article on it.
6. Focus on the Edges
Not only are the edges of your photo equally as important, but they’re even more consequential than the center; a slight diversion near the border can have a larger impact than one in the middle. It’s no wonder why vignetting is such an adored technique among photographers – it emphasizes what matters most without looking too done-up (as long as you don’t overdo it).
While it’s not always essential or desirable to have a darker and empty corner in your photo, you should still be mindful of what lies on the edges when taking the shot. Planning ahead for this can make all the difference in creating an aesthetically pleasing result.
Unless you are aiming for something unique, keep your subject away from the edges of your frame. Intentionally cut off or eliminate boundaries in a calculated way and make sure to examine any potential distractions before pressing the shutter button. If needed, take some time during post-processing to crop out unnecessary elements that could potentially ruin your image’s overall composition.
7. Emphasize Contrast, Tone and Color
An additional essential emotional opposition in composition – similar to balance and imbalance is high contrast versus low contrast.
Photos with high contrast draw attention and stand out, imparting a sense of energy and strength. Low-contrast photos are calmer but also have an elegant quality to them. Neither style is superior; both communicate different messages depending on your desired outcome for the image. Hence, it’s essential that you consider how these two options will help realize the vision behind your photograph.
Madhu’s article on contrast delves deeper, yet the principal idea is that there are various kinds of contrast. You don’t always have to depend on bright highlights and deep shadows for a high-contrast image; you can also entice viewers through color juxtaposition – two complementary colors side by side. The same emotions remain valid no matter what kind of contrast you go with!
If you want to convey a certain emotion with your photograph, seek out light and scenes that offer contrast in the field. Afterward, refine it further by adding or reducing contrast at a local or global level during post-production activities.
8. Master the Art of Eye-catching Composition
Contrast isn’t the only component in a photograph that captivates viewers. We are entranced by virtually anything that grabs our attention: vibrant objects, alluring colors, people’s faces, peculiar shapes, distinctive items, durable texture, fascinating patterns — you name it!
As you create your photo composition, this is invaluable knowledge to have. Firstly, it assists with equilibrium – simply by having a bright object on the other side of the frame as balance against your main subject can level out the weight of each in terms of perception.
But what’s more impressive is when post-processing comes into play and you know how to draw a viewer’s eye to emphasize certain elements while toning down those that could ruin your message. This is where “dodge and burn” edits come into action!
9. Establish a Plan for the Composition
Every image is arranged in a particular way, granting it an underlying structure that guides the viewer’s eyes through the photo. Though one cannot be certain of someone else’s exact journey within a photograph, this visual organization serves to give viewers direction when exploring its subject.
I am always astounded by how a few lines and shapes can replicate the same emotional atmosphere of an original photo. It’s almost as if its emotions are embedded in its structure, a concept we may not even be aware of!
When you are taking pictures, take some time to consider the structure of your shot. Consider arranging your subject matter as abstract shapes rather than literal representations in order to create an interesting composition. Afterwards, make adjustments both globally and locally until it is just right! A diagonal landscape composition line drawing can be a great way to reinforce this idea and will help strengthen the overall photo’s structure.
10. Observe Repeated Designs
Patterns in photography not only make the composition feel unified, but also transcend to real-world cycles that repeat themselves with remarkable accuracy. Through these patterns, photographers can capture something meaningful and intentional through their photos; a message they wished to portray without having to directly say it aloud.
Thus creating an even more captivating image meant for all viewers alike.
A few years ago, I visited an Iceland glacial lagoon to take some landscape shots. Unexpectedly, an Arctic tern flew in front of my desired iceberg shot and I missed it!
But then fifteen minutes later the same bird returned again – as if flying in circles – so I quickly changed settings on my camera and waited with anticipation. Sure enough, what seemed like the exact same bird appeared a third time and this time I was ready to capture that perfect picture!
11. Place the Tripod to match Your Shot's Composition
If you’re used to setting up your tripod at its full height and attaching the camera, then this method might be a detriment. It’s important to take other steps in order to ensure that you are using your tripod correctly.
Tripods are incredibly useful for taking high-quality pictures, but they may not always provide the best angle. Sure, tripod use is essential in certain cases such as capturing distant landscapes or sky wildlife. But what about those times when you want a more creative shot? For instance, if you’re shooting street photography and trying to capture a reflection of your subject in a puddle – this requires getting down to eye level with them!
Or perhaps you wish to document an animal at their own height rather than from above. In these situations (and many more!), freeing yourself from the constraints of using only a tripod can open up tons of new possibilities for achieving amazing photographs.
Before you settle on a position for your tripod, it’s important to understand why that particular spot is superior to others. Don’t simply pick the first convenient place – composition should start long before the camera ever hits the stand. If you take these steps beforehand, your shots will be much more meaningful and dynamic.
Instead of simply adjusting your tripod, move around and explore various angles. Experiment with different heights and tilts while changing lenses until you find the perfect composition for your shot – then secure it by matching up to the appropriate tripod setting.
12. Don't stop Moving
Similar to the previous tip, it is essential to keep in mind that taking pictures isn’t only about watching. At times, you must battle with what’s before your eyes for achieving the perfect composition. You’ll need to sprint or stroll into place, try various views and positions – be active! This will help reveal hidden details that staying still won’t uncover.
Even though I often envision myself leisurely appreciating the picturesque atmosphere while sipping a warm drink, my photographic escapades tend to involve me running around frenetically as the light changes. Whether it’s at an overlook that presents limited shooting opportunities or somewhere else, I’m always on the lookout for new lenses and compositions whenever I get struck with sudden motivation.
Although you might not be moving a lot, photography can still demand tremendous effort – from waiting for hours in wildlife blinds and street corners to capture the perfect moment, or arranging a tabletop studio scene with precision. Nevertheless, all of your hard work will pay off when you get that amazing shot!
13. Provide Space Around Your Subjects for Visual Interest
When framing a photograph, it is best to provide your main subject with some breathing space by avoiding other items that are too close or crossing the primary focal point. This will ensure that all elements work together harmoniously and allow the intended subject to stand out.
For instance, if you’re taking a photo of a mountain in the horizon, take some time to move around and adjust your composition so that no nearby trees are blocking the peak. Similarly, when photographing a flock of birds for example; make sure they don’t intersect one another and turn into distractions.
Although having adequate spacing alone is not enough to ensure a well-crafted composition, it still plays an essential role. Make sure to provide your subject with the necessary space or else risk losing its impact in confusion and disarray.
14. Unify the Emotion of your photos
Thus far, we’ve discussed a range of factors to consider when crafting your image – such as balance, light, color and structure. However if you are able to bring all these components together in an effortless symphony – each contributing towards conveying the same emotion- then you can be sure that your photo is one of success on many levels.
When I reference unifying the emotions of a photo, what I mean is that if you take an image in which the light has a soft and subtle quality while your subject matter appears harsh and edgy, this will confuse your message. Do the elements within your composition – dynamic angles or jagged lines – reflect how you want to portray emotion? Or was it just accidental?
With each choice you make, there is an opportunity to shift the photo’s emotional message in a direction of your choosing. Consider factors such as crowding or emptiness; darkness or brightness; low versus high contrast and blurriness against sharpness – all these elements can be utilized purposefully for desired effects.
The more deliberate decisions you employ instead of leaving them up to chance, the better!
15. Polish Your Composition
Ultimately, the most essential factor in photography is to fine-tune your composition. Experiment with different angles and sample shots – then evaluate them closely to determine what works best for you. Compare the feeling that comes across from your imagination versus how it appears on screen when reviewing each shot taken. How do they compare?
Not all photography styles embrace the same composition. Some prefer to capture a moment and make emotional decisions on the spot, which is totally valid. Even then I suggest that photographers refine their vision before they start shooting as it can greatly improve outcomes in the long run. We have an extended article about refining techniques if you’re interested to learn more!
Ultimately, the most important lesson to remember is that there’s always room for progress. You can refine not only individual photos but also your disposition and visualization abilities as a whole – because nobody has perfected composition yet!
There are many stylistic elements associated with it too, so don’t feel like you have to find the ideal solution instantly. My strongest advice would be just to keep shooting – in other words, practice makes perfect!
Leading lines is a photography technique where lines within the frame are used to draw the viewer’s eye towards the subject or to create a sense of depth.
The rule of thirds is a basic principle in photography that suggests aligning the subject along the lines or their intersections in the image to create a balanced and harmonious composition.
To create depth in photos, use techniques such as including foreground elements, using a shallow depth of field, or incorporating diagonal lines that lead into the frame.
Horizontal compositions place emphasis on the width of the scene, while vertical compositions place emphasis on the height of the scene. The choice of orientation depends on the subject and the photographer’s intention.
The golden hour refers to the first and last hour of sunlight in a day when the light is soft, warm and has a golden hue, making it ideal for outdoor photography.
To simplify a cluttered background, you can use techniques such as adjusting your angle, moving closer to the subject, or using a shallow depth of field to blur the background.
Negative space in photography is the area around the subject that serves to emphasize the subject and create a sense of balance within the image. By using negative space effectively, a photographer can create a more impactful composition.