How to Think About Composition in Your Photography
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How to Think About Composition in Your Photography

October 8, 2019

This week I’m gonna talk about
composition in photography to get you taking more compelling photos A photograph is a two-dimensional viewing
panel showing a 3-dimensional world people tend to look at a photograph and
their eyes tend to wander around the image now a good photographer will be
able to appreciate a well composed image and know why it’s good whereas a
beginner or someone who isn’t into photography may look at an image and
think wow that looks like an amazing image but probably won’t know why and
probably won’t care about the why but this is usually down to good composition
in setting up for composition you can guide the viewers eye through the image
drawing them to certain points and moving them away from others ultimately
telling a story so here are a few guidelines to get you starting to think
about your photos in a compositional way now there are a few you’ll have probably
heard about and you’ll probably grown up one or two of them and some of you might
want to start commenting about this but there might be some that you haven’t
heard of or some that you might not have considered but are equally important
so it’s good to consider some or all of these at times and other times it’s good
to throw them all out of the window but if you take your time to learn these and
embed them into your subconscious mind your photography will really start to
develop and you’ll start seeing a vast improvement in your photos so let’s just
get the most well-known one out of the way straight away and that’s the rule of
thirds beginners tend to put the subject bang in the middle of the shot and
although sometimes this can look great more often than not it gives your image
a slightly mundane look with the rule of thirds you split the image into nine
equal parts when you put your subjects on one of these lines or you put a
strong focal point on the intersections between these lines it can really make
your images stand out so you if you’re photographing a landscape try putting
the horizon on the lower upper horizontal line if there’s more
interesting things in the landscape put it on the top line if there’s an
interesting sky put it on the bottom line if you have a person riding a bike
put them on one of the verticals facing into the photo so they have looking room
in the shot or if you’re photographing a skyline of a city try putting the
interesting building on one of the intersections it’s just a way of
starting to build your shot and consciously thinking about what is going
where now there are many ways you can break this rule and sometimes shooting
the subject bang in the center can look really good or shooting in a really
awkward position in the frame can make the person or the viewer feel a certain
way but you need to know about this rule and use it regularly to then be able to
know when to use it and when not to use it and if you’re going to break this
rule with the center position subject make sure it’s perfectly in the middle
something just off-center or not quite on the 3rd sometimes looks a little
weird and out of place the next tool you can use to lead the viewers eye is
sharpness by making a conscious decision as to what part of the image will be in
focus and what part will be out of focus this really gives you the control over
where that viewer looks you may want to photograph a landscape where everything
is in focus or you might want to get in close to some details and just have one
part of those details in focus so by selectively getting the thing you want
in focus and pushing other parts slightly out of focus you can really
start to build further on your composition just don’t shoot every
single photo with a wide open aperture giving you that shallow focus look take
photos with a wide aperture and then take some with a smaller aperture so you
have a variety of photos in your collection sometimes when you’re at a
location you can see lines in the landscape and other times they’re hard
to find or just not there I always look for leading lines that can help draw the
viewers eye into the shot if you’ve found a subject start looking for strong
around that subject they can be curved they can be straight or even in an
s-curve pattern just something that will basically point the viewer in the right
direction using leading lines can be a very strong compositional technique but
are often hard to find and you may have to really explore the subject or the
location to find them now you may have heard people talking about adding a
foreground element but this is only part of it you want to think of your images
as having a foreground mid-ground and a background when done right this will
tend to give the image a 3-dimensional feel so look for a full ground element
but also a mid ground and a background element sometimes you won’t get all
three and an image can look great just as a background but it has to be pretty
spectacular or you might just get a foreground and a
background that look great together so just start thinking about foreground
mid-ground and background and after a while you’ll start to see the different
elements and you’ll be able to put them together in a really creative way when
we’re out and about or hiking to a new location I’m always looking for shards
of light or patches of light where I can get a little bit of contrast in my
images especially where the subject might move through this light the eye
tends to be drawn to the brighter parts of your image so when you start to think
of where the light is and how you can get your subject in that light you can
really draw the viewers eye right to where you want it to be when using
colors in your shot you need to think about how these colors might complement
or contrast each other now even though some colors are very different they can
still complement each other so if we look at this image as well as the Land
Rover not being in the light the color really blends into the background
whereas with this Jeep as it’s red it really stands out even though it’s at
the bottom left of the image and again this is a way of directing the viewers
eye to exactly where you want it to be when photographing both man-made objects
as well as natural things start to look for shapes
from triangles to circles repeating lines two parallel lines so just start
looking for shapes in your images or in potential images that you might want to
take you’ll probably find that there’ll be circles triangles or shapes hidden
within that landscape or hidden within the photograph you’re taking recomposing
the shot might get this shape further in your shot or just slightly out of your
shot but it’s something to think about and something to become conscious about
as long as the shape complements your image you can really use it to your
advantage and it can really help make your image become a lot more compelling
symmetry can help in a few different ways it can be a mirror image where one
side is almost a reflection of the other you could look for repeating patterns or
having lines disappearing off to a single point it’s quite tricky to line
up properly but you can get some great images by thinking about symmetry now
these aren’t all of the aspects of composition but I really just wanted to
introduce you to this subject it can be very subjective and one person may love
an image whereas another person may hate it but if you think of these things when
taking your photographs you should start to get more compelling images now it may
seem a little bit contrived to start with you may even think that you
shouldn’t use rules just go out with your gut and take nice images however if
you’re having trouble with your composition start thinking about this
list of different parts of the composition and start thinking how you
might be able to use them in your shot after a while you’ll start to think of
them less and less and you’ll start to incorporate them into your images
naturally and this is all part of becoming a better photographer and
that’s about it do you have any other compositional
techniques you use on a regular basis or do you just wait for that serendipitous
moment to come along to get a great image and what things do you use to
improve the composition in your photos let me know you in the comments below
you’ll be great to hear your thoughts as always if you like what you see give me
a thumbs up if you didn’t give me a thumbs down and for weekly tutorials
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  1. Hi Mike, I mostly think about the rules you mentioned (not so much colours so far….) and also at the overall balance of the image. I have a little problem with wildlife, especially a single animal, because often I don’t feel like putting it in the centre but neither at the thirds interceptions, so it ends up slight off centre, like in this photo (a very heavy crop, by the way….) Do you think it looks awkward?

  2. great video for me since i just got my Canon77d and the tokina 11-16mm , its the greatest lens but its doing a better job then my smartphone and i really enjoyed the tutorial , always learning something new in your videos

  3. Great vid Mike you will soon be at a well deserved 20k
    Interesting about awkward objects you are drawn to, i'm always drawn to the T :0

  4. Hi mike. I saw u here in UAE for xposure 2019. Si ce then i am following you in youtube. U are doing a great job. Your channel is really informative and uplifting. Kindly check out my channel if u feel to do so. Thanks a lot.

  5. Great set of rules to help develop the way you can view something. I am going to have to use the shapes idea more I think. As always thank you.

  6. The main 4 rules of framing and composition are: 1) the rule of thirds; 2 )the rule of odds; 3) the rule of space; 4) the rule of viewpoint. Some cameras have only 4×4 grid, some have useful 3×3 grid. Zoom lenses are better at chosing your framing and viewpoint, prime lenses get what you can get at the distance and later you need to crop to the frame to get your final composition.

  7. This was a really great and useful video, Mike. When I first started taking photos, I was taking care of composition in post-processing, causing me to crop heavily and not have as much detail to work with. Once I started thinking about composition in camera and implementing many tips and tricks that you have taught, I have found myself with images that do not need as much cropping and maintain the larger sizes for the times that I want to print. Thanks for all that you do, brother.

  8. Thanks a lot! Must become conscious about these things, for then to make them a part of my subconsciousness. Too often my first image is the best, and then I start thinking too much, making the rest of the images of the scene too rigid. Anyway, I've become more conscious about shooting at a low aperture, to put focus on the main element and blur out the rest, like this image I made this morning, where the main object is the trees in the background, blurring out the grass in the foreground. Too it has three elements, grass, meadow and trees:

  9. As a novice photographer that’s learning the basics I cherish and thank you for this video, Mike! Also: nice Foo Fighters t-shirt!

  10. Thanks Mike, Another welcome video from you. BTW, you do have a pleasing/comforting voice for these YT videos.
    Any specific reason you excluded Golden Spiral?

    Also, those were some excellent image examples for showing the concepts. Good job, those really help in understanding the concept.

    It's good to see your subscriber base growing too! Congrats's.

  11. 👍 Good refresher, Mike! A useful compositional skill is frame “edge patrol”. When concentrating on a subject in a frame, I used to tend to overlook distracting elements around the borders. When unavoidable, cropping, or selective blurring in post can make things right — but not always. With practice I’ve learned to eye the whole frame for composition distractions — another take on working the scene to get the best composition.
    By now you must have 20k subs — congrats.🥇🥁
    I like the segment divider images, but the film reel in the lower left corner seems out of place when you are not discussing video. Perhaps a digital camera icon would be a better content match.

  12. If one wished to place the most interesting point at an intersection then use the real rule, Phi Grid, since the original ROT didn't mention anything about the intersections. The ROT is about thirds such as the shoreline places along the bottom horizontal line and the horizon at the top one. Then, there is Figure ground relationship (it can be light/shadow, sharpness, contrast, etc.).

  13. Great stuff, Mike. I need reminders.

    I confess, some of my best composition happens after the fact with my Photoshop wickedness and sin. 😈 I try to get it in-camera, but often, while reviewing images, I end up thinking, "Doh! I should have ______."

    Thankfully, in my faith of photo Pharisees, I've learned a convenient rationale for my sinfulness – the useful euphemism: "compositing"


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