Updated: May 12, 2020
I truly believe you can make anything interesting by choosing a great composition! Composing an image is done through the arrangement of objects in the frame to effectively convey your message or subject in a compelling way. You can do this by physically moving the objects in the photo or by moving yourself to achieve a different angle.
When I took my first photography class during my undergraduate studies, I remember my professor telling us that the general public will see a photo, like the photo, but not really know why they like it! This is often done by having great composition in your photos.
There are no hard rules to composition, but there are a few guidelines that can help you take more interesting photos:
1. The Rule of Thirds
I just told you there were no hard rules, and then the first guideline I give you has the word "rule" in it... I didn't coin the term. It is still a guideline!
Essentially you divide the screen into 3 rows and 3 columns and then place the subject of the photo on one or more of the lines (pictured below). Typically, by moving the subject from the center and using the Rule of Thirds you automatically create a more interesting photo.
To the left, is an example of how I changed the composition to create a more interesting photo. I was trying to capture the abandoned swing-set but the first photo is not very eye catching.
The second photo, I moved myself and applied the rule of thirds to create a more interesting photograph.
The third photograph contains visual Rule of Third lines to help you visualize them on the photo. Many DSLR cameras have the ability to actually add a grid to the screen to use while you are shooting. Check your user manuals to see if yours has that ability!
2. Using Symmetry for Centered Composition
While I mentioned offsetting your subject to create and interesting photo, you can also make it interesting by leaving your subject in the center if you apply symmetry! For symmetry, you just divide the frame in half and place the center on the middle line and allow either side of the line to reflect each other.
3. Framing the Subject within the Frame
Look for windows, doors, etc. to help frame the subject with in the frame of the photo. It helps to create depth in the photo and draw the viewers eye straight to the subject. They can be man made structures or natural like trees or flowers.
In the picture of the model, I used stone structures to help frame her and lead the viewers eyes straight to her.
When taking a photo of the Jefferson Memorial, I tried to frame the building with the Cherry Blossoms even though they don't completely surround the whole frame.
With this model, I actually used her as her own frame, by having her arms up and frame her face. This is also a good example of filling the frame, which is discusses below.
4. Foreground Interest
Sometimes, wide angle lenses often lack a shallow depth of field and it can be harder to create an interesting photo when using them. One way to combat that is by creating an interesting foreground! In the photos below, I use a rock in the foreground to help create an interesting composition.
5. Filling the Frame
Filling the entire frame with the subject helps the viewer focus completely on the subject and cut out all other distractions. This is often utilized for sports photography. In the photo below, I wanted to focus on the models eye and in order to do that I cut out the bottom of her face and the top of her head.
Below, I cut off the car in order to focus on the broken glass. Had I been more zoomed out t0 get the whole picture, the viewer most likely would have over looked the broken pieces if the headlight lying on the ground.
6. Negative Space
Allowing a lot of negative space is the complete opposite of filling the frame! By leaving negative space around the subject it give the photograph a sense of simplicity and allows the viewer to focus solely on the subject.
In the two photos below, initially I took the photo of the skull on the tree and because the ground and rocks in the background overlapped with the horns, they kind of blended in with the background. In order to emphasize the horns, I squatted lower to separate the horns from the rocks and allow there to be negative space surrounding the horns.
7. Rule of Odds
The Rule of Odds essentially implies that when there are an odd number of objects in the photo, it is more aesthetically appealing to the viewer. The idea is that when there are only two subjects in a photo, the viewer has a hard time deciding which to focus on. In the photo below, I purposefully found an angle that would allow me to include all three crosses form this slave memorial in New Orleans.
The idea of simplicity to avoid distractions which is often found the backgrounds of a photograph. One way to achieve a simple photo is by zooming in on the subject.
9. Depth of field
My most used compositional guideline is isolating the subject by using a shallow depth of field and blurring the background. By blurring out the background, you can get rid of any distractions and help the viewer focus on the subject. I started out in portrait photography where I used this quite frequently. For more understanding on how to reach this look, check out this blog post by Photography Life.
With this photo of the locket, if I had not blurred out the background some, it would be blended altogether with the lock. By blurring the background, I was able to create a bit of separation between the subject and the background.
10. Shadows and Highlights
One thing that I love to do in my photos is create harsh shadows and light. You can do this by finding a window and allowing natural light to hit the subject and everything else around the subject to be darker. It really adds some drama to the photo.
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