10 Tips for Composition to Improve your Digital Photography

1. The most important tip for composition in digital or film photography is: understand composition. Composition is how you arrange the elements of your photograph in such a way that you convey the message or the mood that you intend to convey. In a portrait, do you want to convey happiness, loneliness, wistfulness, anger, boredom, honesty, intelligence? In a landscape, do you want to show tranquility, drama, vast spaces? The way you convey these ideas is through composition. The rest of these tips will help you compose better photos.

2. Covered in another article, the Rule of Thirds is based on placing an imaginary grid of two vertical and two horizontal lines evenly dividing the frame up into 9 rectangles. Place the key center of attention close to one of the points of intersection. Place key vertical or horizontal lines along or close to one of the dividing lines. This helps get away from a static composition to add tension, excitement, motion and action to your photos.

3. Get in closer. Snapshots taken by many untrained photographers have a tiny subject with vast unnecessary space around it. The photo is of mom but you need a magnifying glass to find her among the other people and the litter on the beach. Get in close, make the subject BIG in the frame, and when you think it’s big enough and you’re close enough, take another step closer before you press the button.

4. Look for and remove distracting elements from the photo or move the subject to avoid them. The family is taking a picnic but there is a large garbage can in the photo. Move it if you can or, If you can’t, move your subject to leave the garbage can out of the photo.

5. Try not to cut off people’s limbs or heads, or important parts of your subject, unless you have good reason to. Half an arm, leg or head can look a bit strange. This doesn’t mean you can never cut a subject off. Just pay attention to how you do it.

6. Beware of the position of your subject, particularly a human subject, to make sure that they are not placed in front of something which then appears to be growing out of their head. This is pretty corny, but the number of photos that have a telegraph pole or tree or potted plant growing out of their heads is considerable.

7. A great way to show more about a person and their character is to place them in surroundings which have something to do with their life or activities. If Grandma is known for her terrific crochet work, you might consider sitting her with her crochet needle and pattern in hand. Kids playing with their toys, a musician with his or her instrument and so on, these things all add to the message.

8. Avoid splitting the viewer’s attention between two or more centers of attention. Try not to have a competing subject in the photo that will draw attention away from what you want the viewer’s attention on.

9. There are many ways to focus the viewer’s attention on where you want it in the photo. One of these is to use depth of field. By adjusting your aperture, you can make sure that much of the photo in front of and behind your subject is out of focus, while your subject itself is in sharp focus. Another method is to arrange lines of perspective so that they come to a point at or near your center of attention.

10. Important tip. Only use tips 2 - 9 above if they help you make a better photo. Don’t for a moment feel bound by any of these rules. Take them as tools you can use if you want to, but only so that you can get a better photo.

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