Practical Composition Tips For Beginners Besides Rule Of Thirds

Rule of Thirds has become the default go to recommended guide for beginners when it comes to composition but I personally believe there are other more practical tips to help you compose your images better. Composition is an important consideration for all photography, it can either make or break the shot. I have nothing against Rule of Thirds, I think it works for most cases but I also believe composition is more than just drawing some invisible lines in your frame and place your subjects along these lines. There are other more important things to consider doing proper composition if you want to step up your photography game, and I am exploring these practical tips. 

Too many newcomers to photography focused on how to shoot the subject, not many asked the more important question - "what is the main subject?"

The techniques in shooting can only get you so far, if you have not identified the main story, the idea,  message or emotion that you want to convey in your shot, that image will end up looking quite empty. Instead of thinking too far ahead, I strongly suggest you identify the main subject first, and do all you can in ensuring that your viewer's attention is drawn to that main subject. 

We all love shooting from the viewfinder, but when we do that, we create images that look very ordinary and plain because everyone is standing at almost the same height and seeing the world through similar perspective. Therefore, one effective way to immediately create images that look a little different is to show them from a different level. Move the camera away from the eye level and start using the LCD screen to compose your shots. Most cameras these days do come with some sort of tilt or swivel screen which allows easy shooting from the waist level or even lower. Go as low as to the ground level to create some impactful shots looking up, or climb stairs, a hill or anywhere giving you a higher vantage point overlooking a vast area for a more dramatic outcome. Go high or go low and you will see that the composition will be stronger than just shooting everything through the viewfinder. 

There are many ways to direct attention to your main subject in your photographs that does not require drawing crazy many invisible lines that do not make sense. Forget the lines. Look for more practical methods to frame your subjects and here are some suggestions - use lines, patterns, repetition, color and geometry, the art basics for composition. Most of the creative framing opportunities are right in front of us, we just have to spot them and use them effectively to frame our main subjects in the photograph. Being able to see and identify these opportunities may present a challenge for many as they may not know what to look for in the first place. Then train yourself to see things more beautifully and do your best to find the beauty even in the simplest and normal every day things. Photography is not about capturing epic moments or visuals only, photography is also about finding beauty even in the most ordinary things, and should be a continuous effort that is done consistently. 

I have observed many images that are greatly composed but somehow the photographer did not pay sufficient attention to what goes on in the background. The background can mess up your shot. Ask yourself if you do want to include the background to your main subject, which background to include if you have a choice (most of the time you do, by shifting the angle away to a different direction where you point your camera at), and how much background you want in your image. Avoid strong glaring colors like red and yellow that may distract the attention away from the main subject easily. Avoid unpleasing looking objects like rubbish bin or anything messy in the background. If the background adds to the main subject constructively, supporting the story-telling element, such as an environmental portrait, then compose the background carefully to enhance the image. Otherwise, take the background out and include as little as possible. 

If your photography is not good enough you are not close enough, the famous saying has been repeated countless times and still holds true. Fill your frame and your main subject will immediately become dominant. However, do not go too close, do leave a bit of room to breathe. In some cases when it is difficult to predict the movement of the subject (sports shooting, birds flying, etc) framing the subjects too tightly may unintentionally chop off some important parts of the subjects. Also, having a bit of room to breathe is not a bad thing, you may crop in a little during post (don't over do it) or straightening a slightly uneven shot will benefit from that extra bit of headroom. 

That's all I have to share in this blog entry, I acknowledge these are simple tips, but I am sure they can be effective in bringing out the best in many photography situations. I sure hope you have found them useful, and if you have more to add, please share in the comments below. 

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  1. > "Then train yourself to see things more beautifully and do your best to find the beauty even in the simplest and normal every day things."

    Robin, you are one of few who point this out, and seldom so clearly!

    And you make also humorous photos, which is even rarer.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Refreshing comments on photography. Just found your blog and am glad I have done so. I love photography, am just an amateur but always trying to learn how to capture an image that has a stamp of uniqueness. Looking forward to reading all your suggestions and ideas. Cheers