Photo Composition Guide Part 1

Mike Browne, from PhotographyCourses.Biz, has a new series to share with you. This time it's on composition.

| General Photography
Photo Composition Guide Part 1: Mike BrowneArticle by Mike Browne from PhotographyCourses.Biz.

If you want to know how to take good photos take heart - because it doesn’t matter what sort of camera you have. It’s not the camera that takes good photos it’s the photographer. Provided you understand composition, light and how to properly use a lens this is true for all camera types.

Which of these two images do you think I took on a DSLR? The sunset (left) or the beach huts (right)?
Photo Composition Guide Part 1: Sunset and beach huts
It could be either couldn’t it? Actually it’s neither. The Sunset was on a cheap compact and the beach huts on my phone! I only show you this to emphasize how it’s not the camera that takes great images – it’s you!

So why would you buy a DSLR and lenses if you can get great shots with a phone? A DSLR gives you more control over the way your photos look. By changing lenses, shutter speeds and apertures you can make fuzzy backgrounds, freeze or blur movement and change the field of view. All these things could be said to have an impact on how or what the picture is composed of. We’ll look into these things in a later guide.

The first place to start is to consider where you’re going to place the elements of your image within the frame of the viewfinder. When you see something that catches your eye slow down and think about where to put it in the viewfinder so it makes an interesting image. Don’t just point the camera at it and hope that because it’s a DSLR it’ll take an amazing image. It won’t, chances are it’ll just give you a really great quality image file of a rather boring picture.

I expect most, if not all of you, will have heard of the rule of thirds. I’m going to run through it with you in this video before we move on because I know from the comments we’ve had on our site that a lot of people don’t truly understand how it works.

Ok so now you know what it is and how to apply it, so next time you have an idea for a photo take a moment to think it through and then use it. This is one of the simplest ways to instantly improve your composition.

I’m not suggesting for a moment this is the one and only way to compose an image, but if you’re struggling to get things looking good in the frame it’s the perfect place to begin. When you’re watching TV or flicking through a magazine mentally apply this rule of thirds grid. You’ll be amazed at how many images are composed along these lines.

Teach yourself to stop concentrating on the subject for a minute and look all around the viewfinder as though it’s a picture. Ask yourself if you’d like to hang it on your wall? If the answer’s no then ask yourself how you could arrange the subject and its surroundings within the viewfinder so it’s more pleasing.

When we look at things in real life they’re in the middle of our field of view so it’s only natural to do the same through a camera’s viewfinder. Sadly this doesn’t often make for an interesting composition.

Photo Composition Guide Part 1: Pebbles, beach

Move yourself about and try a different point of view because chances are it’ll make your images much more interesting. In the left image I pointed the camera straight at the stones and left them where they’d normally occur for me – in the middle. In the second shot I took a bit more time and trouble by kneeling down to be on the same level as the stones. This changed the background of the shot from pebbles to sea and sky. Then I made tiny adjustments to where the camera was pointing until they were on the bottom right crossing of thirds.

When you’ve mastered the rule of thirds you can begin to combine other things like adding some foreground on an opposite third. This will add depth to your compositions. Look at the sunset on the left below. It’s nicely placed near the top right crossing of two third lines, but compared to the one on the right with a boat on the opposite lower third - it’s a bit dull.

Photo Composition Guide Part 1: Boat, beach, sunset

To put the boat and sunset onto the places where the thirds meet I had to move myself back and forth, up and down and side to side until everything lined up the way I wanted them to. This is what I mean by taking your time. It’s better to come home with one image you’re proud of than a hundred you’re not!

Of course there’s a lot more to composition and this is a great starting point. In my next tip we’ll take it a step further and look at ways to combine other composition techniques together to get amazing images. As you practice compositions it’ll become more and more intuitive for you and that’s the time to start looking at other tools for better photos. Things like lighting, camera techniques and lenses.

Please get out there and give all this a go for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you have to throw some away (we all do that) but practice makes perfect as they say.

Best wishes until next time,

Mike Browne -

P.S. We've got loads of great stuff to help you improve your photography on our website, including workshops and downloadable courses, a DVD (rated 4.5/5 stars by ePHOTOzine) and over 125 online video tutorials.

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LiamBull Avatar
LiamBull 11 7 England
10 Jun 2012 9:32PM
this is so useful, thanks

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