Photography Composition for Beginners

5 May 2020

So you’ve taken the time to understand how your camera works and watched dozens of online photography tutorials, but you are still not satisfied with how your photos look. They just lack that certain spark. 

Have you put any thought into how to compose a photo? This means how and where you position your subject within the frame.

Understanding photography composition rules will take photographs from happy snaps to masterpieces. Below we have compiled our favourite photography composition ideas to help you master composition and take that vital next step with your photography.

Know your subject

First things first, you should know what you want to photograph. By deliberately shooting a particular subject you can make decisions about how your photograph is going to look before you even pick up your camera.

Understanding how your subject is going to behave or appear within the frame will put you in complete control, leaving you free to take advantage of the moment.

Photography Composition for BeginnersPhotography Composition for Beginners

Use negative space (don’t overcrop)

Photography Composition for BeginnersPhotography Composition for Beginners

One of the main mistakes people make in photography is to overcrop or zoom in too tight. By leaving extra space around the subject you can include more of the context or if you like, add more to the conversation. By shooting wide you can crop it later if you wish, but once you have zoomed and in and taken the shot you cannot add extra details later on.

Another benefit of leaving white or negative space around your subject is it subconsciously draws your viewer’s eye to your subject, resulting in a more impactful photograph. See here if you would like to find out more about negative space photography.

Try shooting from a different perspective

A great way to add some interest to your photographs is to try a different perspective. This not only provides you with a different point of view, but it also allows you to control how much space the foreground, midground and background take in your photograph.

Don’t be afraid to look a fool and get down very low to the ground, so you can aim up at your subject. Conversely, try attaining a higher vantage point so you can angle your camera lens down. If you are taking this route, please remember, safety first!

Photography Composition for BeginnersPhotography Composition for Beginners

Use a shallow depth of field - blur to your advantage

Photography Composition for BeginnersPhotography Composition for Beginners

Using the main settings of your camera such as aperture and shutter speed can make a difference to the way your photographs appear, thus helping your compositions.

Depth of field, influenced by aperture and focal length can be used to make your subject stand out by blurring the background or can be used to make more of your image in focus, from the foreground until the horizon.

Shutter speed can be used to either freeze moving subjects or emphasize their movement by allowing them to blur – both are great options for creating dynamic images.

By employing these techniques, you can be aware of what areas of your photograph will be sharp or blurry, and position them within your frame to your liking.

Understand the rule of thirds and the rule of odds

We can all agree on one thing; rules are made to be broken. Well, the same theory applies to photography, but you have to understand and master the rules first before you can bring out your inner rebel.

Our first rule is the rule of thirds, which refers to placing your subject in the first or second third, or top or bottom third of the image. Why is the rule of thirds so effective? By placing your subject at these points, you can achieve a more visually pleasing image, with better balance between your subjects. 

Photography Composition for BeginnersPhotography Composition for Beginners

To understand this approach, use 2 imaginary lines to divide your frame into three parts vertically and horizontally, and at any point where these lines meet, position your subject. Many DSLR and Mirrorless cameras have grid features on the LCD screen to make this step easier.

The next rule to follow is the rule of odds. This just means a photograph is easier on the eye if the number of subjects in it is an odd number, such as 1, 3, 5, and so on. Practice both of these rules until they become second nature, and at this point, you can think of little ways to break them to your advantage.

Use the Golden Ratio for striking photos

Photography Composition for BeginnersPhotography Composition for Beginners

The golden ratio is a mathematical formula (roughly 1.618 to 1), which has been used countless times throughout history in famous artworks and architecture, and it is said to create a sense of divine harmony. To photographers, it offers a powerful tool for composition. It guides how we can arrange elements within the frame for a balanced and visually pleasing image.

Similar to the rule of thirds, the golden ratio uses a grid, but with key points positioned along a special spiral.

So, how to use the golden ratio in photography? Imagine a grid dividing your frame into sections following the golden ratio. Place your subject or key elements at the important points or along specific lines. There's also a spiral variation where you position elements along the path of the spiral.

Remember, the golden ratio is a suggestion, not a rule. As with any of our suggested photography composition techniques, use it to enhance your compositions, but feel free to experiment and find your artistic voice.

Use leading lines to guide your viewer’s eyes

Imagine a photograph with a winding path, an ascending staircase, or a row of tall trees – these elements can all be referred to as leading lines within an image. Why are leading lines used? They act as visual guides, directing the viewer's eye through a photograph. By positioning such elements strategically within the frame, photographers can draw attention to specific subjects, like a subject at the end of the path. They can also create a sense of depth in a landscape shot. 

Leading lines beautifully complement other techniques like the rule of thirds, where placing key elements at specific intersections further enhances the composition's balance and impact.

Photography Composition for BeginnersPhotography Composition for Beginners

Improve your photography with these photography composition techniques

Composition is the thing that makes a photograph your own, so we encourage you to experiment and find your photographic style. If you are looking for more tips to develop your photography skillset, such as understanding the exposure triangle, follow our Photography Blog.

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