10 Composition Tips

by | Dec 27, 2017

I often profess that there are 4 ingredients to a compelling image in photography. 1. Subject 2. Composition 3. Light and 4. Color. They don’t need to be present in equal proportions but all great images contain these in varying amounts and proportions. Since composition is an important element, it’s our topic in this post.

There are literally hundreds of composition tips I can give off the top of my head but many are simply variations of these 10 important composition tips. Take a look at some of these images and see if you agree. I’ll be posting more composition tips in the near future and throughout the year so be sure and check back.

1. Using Lines

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When setting up a photograph, you can use lines to help guide the viewer’s eye to a specific point in the frame, or just to make a more interesting image. This is a very linear looking image shot under the Ringling Bridge in Sarasota, Florida.

2. Shooting From a Different Angle/Viewpoint

sarasota photography school composition tips

Images shot at different angles are very compelling and popular since the human eye is not accustomed to viewing from this angle. No matter what you shoot is almost sure to be more compelling than the same subject shot in a way that 99% of the shooters do, at eye level from a very safe (aka lazy) distance. I have lots of examples of this because its a technique that I employ often in both my commercial work and personal work. Sometimes its all a matter of perspective.

3. Check your Horizon

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Making sure your horizon is straight in a picture is very important. It just looks sloppy and very amateur if your horizon is not strait. If it must be at an angle really exaggerate it so you are now just being “artsy”.

4. Use Natural Frames

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One way to set up a really unique and interesting image is by using natural features to frame your subject.

5. Fill Your Frame

fill your frame

Getting close to your subject and/or filling up your viewfinder with a subject can really change a photograph. Try to take specific images where you intentionally try and fill up the background with part of your subject.

6. Keep it Simple

compose better photos

When it comes to images, less is definitely more and it is my #1 most common critique of portfolio images. NEVER leave your viewer confused as to what the subject of your image is. This image appears to be very complex, however it is actually very simple.

7. Look for Symmetry, Patterns, Reflections or Shadows

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Symmetry and patterns can be used to make really interesting photography or to turn something ordinary into extraordinary by simply changing the way you look at something. These repeating patterns and shapes are found in both nature and man made objects and architecture is a common theme. A little study is all it takes.

8. Depth of Field

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Changing your depth of field is something to consider when thinking about your photo composition. You should think about whether you want to include the background, blur the background, or do a combination of both. Generally I like my backgrounds blurred as to not compete with my subject, rather complement. This is an extreme example to take what was a busy background and make it simple.

9. Contrasting and Harmonious Colors

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Look for contrasting colors, complementary colors, light, shadows, etc. when composing your images to make your subject really stand out. For more about color in photography check out this article.

10. Avoiding the Center

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I often discuss the rule of thirds, which tells you to line your subject up at the intersecting points on the grid that equally divides your frame into 9 equal sections. Exaggerated off center images work really great too and you can experiment with this concept to the point of extreme. This combined with large amounts of negative space, like in the image above, make for an interesting look and thus a compelling image that draws a viewers attention.

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About the author Perry Johnson
Perry Johnson is classically trained commercial photographer and graphic designer with over 30 years experience. He initially crafted his skills at the École Supérieure Des Beaux-Arts de Toulouse in France. Over the years Perry has taught countless photography workshops and courses to individuals, groups and business including Target Corp., Lockheed Martin, Johnson Outdoors, Enza-Zaden and more. Perry’s commercial photography clients include Darden Restaurants, Marriott Corp, Visit Florida, Food & Wine Magazine, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to name just a few. Perry owns a marketing communications firm named Imagica (imagica.us). This boutique agency offers a fully integrated menu of marketing services for business that includes photography, website design, graphic design, advertising, strategy, social media, public relations and more. It’s this current and diverse experience from the “outside in” that gives a unique perspective on the power of photography to inspire, motivate and tell a story.

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