It doesn’t matter how idyllic your scene is, how well you’ve exposed or how sharp your images may be. Bad photo composition will spoil a picture every time. Below we’ve compiled 6 of what we believe are the best tips out there for composing photos more intelligently.
01 Straighten up
The word horizon is found in the word horizontal, and that’s just what it should be. If your SLR’s got an in-camera electronic level, use it. If not, invest just a few pounds in a hotshoe-mounted spirit level. It will save you time correcting your shots in Photoshop later. Some SLRs have a grid that can be activated and superimposed over a Live View image on the rear LCD screen, making getting level horizons a breeze. Alternatively, use the autofocus points across the viewfinder to do the same.
02 Check the edges
of the shot’s frame
The majority of SLR viewfinders don’t provide you with full 100% coverage, so it’s easy for unwanted elements that you can’t see through the viewfinder to creep into a shot. The only way to be certain is to check your camera’s LCD once the shot is taken. If there’s anything in the frame that’s not needed, adjust your composition and shoot again.
03 Odd numbers work best
There’s more than a hint of truth to the phrase ‘three is the magic number’, especially where composition is concerned. If you want a balanced composition, try reducing the number of subjects to three. Three people, three colours or even three tones – the list goes on. Odd numbers work especially well because they fit better into a frame that’s symmetrical and has four sides. Framing for odd numbers also leaves you one central subject that can be perfectly balanced on each side.
04 Position your subject off-centre
Choosing to place your main subject off-centre creates a fantastic sense of balance and artistry in your pictures. The classic ‘rule of thirds’ is the photographer’s best weapon in achieving this. Imagine a noughts and crosses grid placed across the frame – place the main subject or feature at one of the points that the lines cross, or the along one of the lines.
For more on the Rule of Thirds, see our in-depth guide Rule of Thirds: use it and break it with confidence.
05 Use lines creatively
You can use the power of lines to dramatically alter the impact of a picture. Vertical lines add a sense of strength to an image while horizontal lines are more tranquil – especially if you rotate the camera to emphasise them (such as vertically to frame tree trunks, or horizontally to shoot a seascape). Diagonal lines create a more dynamic image and often add impact to action shots.
06 Take more shots than you’ll need
Even with static subjects, consider shooting a burst of frames using your camera’s continuous shooting mode. Subtle variations in the light as clouds move across a landscape, or a portrait subject changing their expression, are both examples of a ‘perfect moment’ that could be missed with just a single shot, so shoot a burst and pick the best frame later on. Be careful not to overshoot, though, as you’ll end up with lots of duplicates.
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