5 Steps to Better Composition

Here are five tips for improving your composition. You may be surprised to learn that none of them involve the rule of thirds. There’s a good reason; it’s one of the first things photographers learn, so most of you are aware of this ‘rule’ already.

Learning the rule of thirds is a bit like taking driving lessons and being told that you press the gas pedal to accelerate and the brake pedal to stop the car (and nothing more). It covers the basics, but you know that there’s a lot more to driving than that. It’s the same with composition.

1. Stop Composing According to the Rule of Thirds
The thing is with the rule of thirds is that sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The thirds are not always the best place to position the subject. How do you know when to ‘break’ the rule of thirds? Read on to find out.

2. Be aware of Balance
A balanced image has a peaceful, harmonious feel. You may wish to create a more dynamic image – in which case see tip 4.

3. Simplify
Make your compositions as simple as possible. You can do this by excluding anything that isn’t necessary. Often this just means moving closer to your subject so that there is less stuff in the background. You could also use a longer focal length, as the narrower field of view excludes more of the background. Another technique is to use a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus. The idea is to try and eliminate anything that distracts from the main subject of your photo. 

4. Use Lines to Create Dynamic Tension
Lines are a powerful element of composition, and the viewer’s eye naturally follows any lines in your images. One use of line is to create a sense of depth. You can do this with lines that travel from the front of the image to the back. Diagonal lines are more dynamic than straight ones. Horizontal lines are least dynamic of all. 

5. Work the Subject
If you find a good subject, sometimes it’s a good idea to take lots of photos. The key is to think about what you are doing, rather than ‘machine gunning’ away. Ask yourself how you can improve the composition. Try taking photos from different angles, or with a different focal length. This is called working the subject, and you’ll often find that it helps you take stronger images.

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