7 Tips For Improving Your Composition
Composition happens everywhere around us. It’s not a territory reserved only for filmmaking, design, drawing and photography, but it’s also a solid part of our everyday life.
Think about your favourite green space to walk through in the nearest city park or even about the way you arrange your desk so that you feel comfortable.
What could these two examples possibly have in common? They’re a simple sum of elements – lines, shapes, colours, textures.
The way these things are put together is what makes something look appealing or not appealing to you and it’s called composition.
Mastering composition in photography takes a lot of time and practice, but it’s one of the most rewarding experiences. You just need to train your eye to notice the compositional details.
Follow the tips below so that you can get a head start on improving your photography skills!
Table of Contents
1. Don’t be afraid of central framing
Whether you’re at the beginning of your photography journey or you’ve already gained some experience, you’ve probably heard multiple times that framing your subject in the center is boring and should be avoided. But is this true?
Central composition is a bold statement – if you use it right it means you’re not afraid to put your subject in the spotlight and to be straightforward with the viewers.
Symmetry is found all around us, particularly in nature, and people are instinctively drawn to it since it gives a sense of balance and structure.
So instead of trying to keep away from placing your subject in the center, why not embrace it? It will surely add strength and a touch of honesty to your image, especially if it’s a conscious choice about the composition you’ve made.
2. Create depth with the foreground
Ordinary images are two-dimensional: they have height and weight, but what they lack is depth. Adding a third dimension to your photographs can turn out to be a great decision in terms of composition. But how can you achieve that?
Emphasizing the foreground is one of the best ways to solve this problem. It can really captivate your audience and bring the story you wish to tell to life.
This technique adds context and you don’t have any limitations when it comes to choosing what you put in your foreground. It can be literally anything, as long as it makes sense when you look at the picture.
In landscape photography, you can use a group of scattered rocks in front of a mountain lake; or if you’re keen on night photography, the foreground could be the sparkling city lights which are out of focus. It’s up to you!
Remember you can use your camera aperture to control whether your foreground/background elements are in focus.
3. Use leading lines to guide the viewer’s attention
Leading lines not only draw the viewer’s attention where it’s needed, but they can also be another alternative way of adding depth to your images.
The lines can serve as great connectors between the foreground and the background of the scene as well. They’re easily found everywhere around us – both in nature and in the concrete jungles of the cities. You just have to train your eye to spot them and that surely takes practice and a little bit of imagination.
Some noteworthy examples of what you can use in order to master this composition technique are roads, airplane tracks, fences, rivers, shorelines, trees, rocks, beams of light, boardwalks, doorways, bridges and many more.
It’s important to know which part of your photo you want to emphasize when using the leading lines. It absolutely doesn’t need to be the main subject – they could point towards infinity or they can even lead the eye outside of the frame to create a feeling of uneasiness.
4. Look for repeating elements
If you imagine your photograph as a song, it will be really easy to understand why repeating elements are such a key factor in achieving a great composition.
Repetition creates rhythm and gives structure to the image, therefore making it stand out.
You have plenty of options out there if you’ve decided to give this creative technique a shot, but all the things you can choose to repeat are divided into three basic categories: colours, shapes and lines. You can arrange them to either emphasize the pattern or to break it.
Both alternatives are suitable for creating powerful compositions – it all depends on the message you’re trying to convey.
If you align the elements in a never-ending pattern you’ll build up a feeling of infinity. You’ll be able to plant the idea that the composition is basically endless and it extends beyond the boundaries of the picture frame.
On the other hand, if you choose to build a pattern so that you can break it, that can also bring a powerful feeling to your viewers. Imagine, for example, a cinema hall with empty seats and only one person sitting in the middle. In this case, that person is the one who breaks the pattern and creates the whole atmosphere.
5. Frame your image
This is the technique of creating a frame within the frame and it’s basically the simple act of blocking other parts of the image in order to focus the attention of the viewer where it’s most needed.
It’s one of my personal favourites and I find myself using this method quite often. It can really bring many essential benefits to your image.
Framing adds depth and it creates a “layered” effect which gives the illusion of three-dimensional space.
To frame your photograph you can take advantage of literally anything that surrounds you – doorways, windows, tree branches, arches and even people.
Clever framing could also be used very successfully to add a pinch of mystery to your image – the fact that you have a part of it covered makes it feel like there’s something intriguing going on.
6. Get creative with reflective surfaces
Using reflections gives you the chance to create a truly special atmosphere and to elevate your photography to the next level. Reflections make even ordinary everyday scenes and objects more magical and mysterious.
Besides the surfaces which are on everyone’s radar (such as mirror and glass exteriors), there are many others hiding around you and waiting to be discovered.
This could be, for example, any kind of countertops, your friend’s glasses, the surfaces of cars, the puddles after a rainy day.
Once you start seeing them, you’ll be surprised how many there actually are.
Taking photos of something that reflects can involve quite a few obstacles – for instance, if you don’t want your own reflection in the shot, you’ll have to find the right angle and think a little bit about how to exclude it from the scene.
When you get used to the idea, it’s actually quite fun to play around with different points of view and to constantly think about changing your position – you’re going to need those skills a lot when working with reflections!
7. Go minimal
As one of the greatest artists of all time once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. This thought by Leonardo Da Vinci feels extremely relevant in our complex contemporary world.
Minimalism is a concept that’s been around for a while. It all began after the Second World War and the movement was most popular in the 1960s and the early 1970s.
It was once considered to be very innovative, but nowadays it has already set foot deep in our modern culture. You can see minimalist imagery everywhere – from TV commercials to art in galleries.
Going minimal when it comes to photography gives a signature to your work and adds character to the images.
There are multiple ways in which you can apply this rule to your photos, but my absolute favourite one is to implement a sense of scale.
This is basically when you compare something larger with something much smaller to make the viewer grasp how massive something truly is. It works perfectly well with landscape scenes and also architectural shots where you do need a human figure to emphasize the scale.
Improving your composition is not a final destination – it’s a never-ending journey. There’s always more to be achieved and new techniques to explore.
The tips I’ve listed above are just a few ideas that you can try for yourself to see how they work with your own style, but there are certainly many more to discuss.
Composition can also be shaped by our current mood, so it can vary drastically. Do you tend to go for a central composition if you’re feeling more level-headed and peaceful? Have you ever thought that how you compose your photos could be a direct reflection of your current state of mind?
I’m also eager to hear which were your favourite pieces of advice and if you can add a few more helpful composition rules you’ve come across. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
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