Photography 101 – Composition II

October 5, 2009

This entry isn’t so much about composition “rules” like the last composition entry was, but more about things to keep in mind when composing your shots.

The Background

It’s very easy to concentrate so much on what you’re taking a picture of, that you forget to notice what’s in the background, for instance, this photo of my niece is one of my favorites I’ve taken of her:

Edit of a previous pic

… but I think it could look even better if those bookshelves hadn’t been in the background.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s what’s in the background that really makes the shot. Like this photo of a lamp on a bar near my house:

365.209: Light Bokeh

The reason why I love this shot is because of the background – those are bottles of alcohol lit up by a green light causing the beautiful bokeh.

Negative Space

Related to The Background, be sure to take advantage of negative space – pure emptiness around your subject. This is a great place (in my opinion) to play around with breaking the Rule of Thirds, too. It really gives you a chance to make your subject really pop, like this apple:


And I don’t think this photo would have had quite the appeal if it was cropped to directly around the face:

366 - 247

The negative space is what really makes that photo *pop*!


Try to take note of all the lines in your photos. While I know you can fix these things in editing – by rotating the image or using the perspective tool, or even a crop, it’s better to get them right in camera.

First, pay attention to converging lines, they’re very pleasing to the eye. Roads and train tracks are a classic example, but here’s the latter from a slightly different perspective:

Photowalk 22 - Train Tracks

Also pay attention to where the lines – such as pathways, trails, roads, and yes, train tracks – start and end in your photo. I like to have my lines start in the corner of my photo, like this:

Photowalk 3: Second floor of hub

In the photo above, on the left, the wall curves into the bottom left-hand corner of the photo, and almost to the upper left hand corner too – I can’t tell what happened there… looks like there’s something between the camera and the wall? Regardless, you get the idea.

Perhaps the most important line to pay attention to is your horizon line. If your horizon is not level, the whole photo is going to look wonky. … like this photo:

Photowalk 2 - Footprints into the sunset

Don’t you feel like you’re falling over now?


This is another time that I think of roads and train tracks, but also docks:

Dock at Salt Fork

Symmetry in a photo breaks the Rule of Thirds in at least one direction (the dock in the above photo is sitting on the bottom third line, though). But it’s just so pleasing to the eye.

By the way, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that horizon is not level. Well. It IS. I triple-checked it. Must be an optical illusion caused by those crooked poles sticking up in the middle.

Wanna know another secret? I cloned out some litter left on the dock. I love the clone tool. I wish getting rid of litter in real life was that easy…


Finally, concentrate on the details. Everyone in your whole family is taking photos of your new niece’s face, but only you will think to capture her hand as she starts trying to crawl:

Mary's hand

A field of an entire field of dandelions might be powerful, but can also be powerful to see just one from a different angle:

365.130 - Photowalk 19: Dandelion Sky

It’s in capturing the details that you really get to show something they might not have seen otherwise.

…so what about you? Any composition details that you like to keep in mind when you shoot? Let us know!

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  • Gustonator

    great post, and also great photos. some of them i really like.

  • I always try to remember to make sure there is a line the eye can follow in a picture. Of course, most of the time I forget this rule xD

    That photo of your neice is priceless, by the way ;]

  • jusjerry

    The photo of your niece is priceless. As far as I'm concerned there could have been a Boeing 747 in the bacground and I would not have noticed it.

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