In this post, I will share 13 Photography Composition Tips for Bloggers. If you haven’t read my first post, 10 Photography Tips for Bloggers – Lighting, then I suggest you start there. I think lighting trumps all when it comes to photography.
That said, composition in photography is really important too. I imagine one could argue that composition is perhaps the most important fundamental of photography.
I’m still putting it behind lighting but probably ahead of camera settings. Camera settings will be my last post in this post series.
If you want to learn how you can create unique and compelling images for your blog then be sure to read the complete Photography Tips for Bloggers Series.
This series is specifically for bloggers to help create great photos, build brand recognition, and have Google fall in love with you. Let’s get to composition in photography.
Master Composition – Photography Tips for Bloggers
When I first started my journey into photography, I was largely guided by voices in the photography community. Sometimes I asked for this advice, sometimes it’ was just given freely.
There were always differing opinions on how to receive these voices, specifically when you didn’t ask for constructive criticism. I made a choice back then. I will always listen and not take things too personally.
After all, art is subjective right. Well kind of because here’s the thing, it can also be subjectively bad in the eyes of a whole community of peers.
That’s why it’s important to know the golden rules of photography. You know, photography composition rules like adding foreground interest, framing your subject, negative space, the rule of thirds, etc.
What’s that classic line? Know the rules of photography so you can break them. When you know the rules, you can break them with conviction!
It’s also important to recognize, take note because this is huge!
The Focal Length of your Lens has a direct correlation with the types of compositions you can create.
Who would have thought? I didn’t, not when I was a new photographer. It took me a minute to understand my limitations.
I remember this one time my niece showed me a photo. “I want something like this Uncle Mike,” I remember the conversation. Now, I don’t have the exact photo but I remember it was something like this.
Here is the thing; first this photographer is Jessica Kobeissi, she’s awesome, and I’m new and not awesome. Second, my best and only lens at the time was a 50mm f/1.8. You know, you get the nifty fifty and realize it’s way better than the kit lens that came with your camera. Suddenly, that’s all you’re using.
You might already know, maybe you’re laughing but yeah, I’m not going to be able to create this composition with a 50mm f/1.8. Such is the lesson.
Failure is the Best Teacher
I failed, I failed at multiple things here but it’s this type of failure that you need to grow. The failures will push you to learn the WHY. Why did I fail?
Somewhere, the basic principles of composition in photography eluded me. I missed something. Maybe you’re missing something, Let’s review!Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. - Denis Waitley Click To Tweet
13 Golden Rules for Composition in Photography
1 ) Change your Perspective
The first rules goes hand in hand with the lesson I learned above, change your perspective. Perspective changes with the focal length of your lens.
If you’re shooting with an 11mm focal length then you’re going to have a wide perspective of the world. If you’re shooting with a 100mm lens your perspective is going to be much tighter.
I probably understood this at a basic level back then but I hadn’t put it all together. I didn’t understand the following facts regarding camera perspective.
Objects closer to the Camera will appear Bigger
If you kick your shoe out in front of the lens it’s going to appear bigger than your head in the background.
In the same sense, if you lean your head and chest slightly toward the camera it will bring more attention to your head and chest while subtly reducing the size of your waist.
Therefore, if you want something to appear bigger bring it closer to the camera lens. If the goal is smaller than position the element in question, further away relative to all other composition elements in the photo.
For Example: If you lean backward, your head will become smaller relative to other parts of your body closer to the camera.
A wide-angle lens will exaggerate this phenomenon
This is the part I was missing, the exaggerated impact of using a wide-angle lens. If you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens like say 11mm, all of the above becomes exaggerated even further.
A Wide Angle lens expands space and makes things look further apart and more distant.
Anything that is far from the lens appears even further away and anything close to the lens appears even bigger relative to the rest of the scene.
A Telephoto lens will compress space, make objects look bigger, and bring elements closer together.
Back to the image my niece wanted. I was using a 50mm. Now a 50mm isn’t exactly telephoto but it isn’t wide either, it’s somewhere in the middle. By using a 50mm I was not achieving the exaggerated look that my niece was after.
I was compressing the space in which she occupied and making things feel closer together. I also wasn’t able to bring her shoe really close to my lens. I needed to stand back further in order to get the entirety of my subject in the frame.
Changing your Len’s is not the only way to change your Perspective
Since we’re talking about perspective let’s talk about the boring photographer’s perspective. See the image below.
If you really want to start taking photos with a unique perspective then you need to get high!
Get High – Ok, no, I’m not talking about the perspective as seen through a haze of drugs. I’m talking about raising your camera above your head or finding the high ground.
Get Low – Once you’ve found that perspective it’s time to get low. Get on your hands and knees, get on your belly, we need these shots!
Take the image below: I captured this image at a BLM protest in honor of George Floyd. We were facedown for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. By getting down on the ground with my subject I was able to capture something more powerful than had I stood.
This image employs many of the rules of composition that we will discuss below including the use of negative space, the rule of space, and diagonals.
2 ) Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is one of the first rules you learn as an artist. It basically states that you should take your image and break it into equal parts both horizontally and vertically. The 4 points where these lines intersect then distinguish your points of interest.
You then want to place your subject on these points of interest. The two photos below further illustrate the Rule of Thirds.
Additionally, placing your horizon on either the bottom or top horizontal line is considered visually pleasing. How do you decide which? Easy, what is more interesting, the sky or the foreground?
3 ) Use Negative Space
Positive space is the bowl of apples and the table in which they occupy. Positive space is your subject.
Negative space on the other hand is the empty space around your subject. It’s the space void of distraction, simple and plain, it’s the background.
Together, positive and negative space work together to achieve a balanced composition.
At times, however, you may want to employ a technique where you use excessive negative space to emphasize your subject. By doing this you isolate your subject further to create a dramatic and interesting dichotomy between your subject and the space it occupies.
4 ) Fill the Frame
Filling the frame is pretty much the opposite of using lots of negative space. When you fill the frame, you are cutting out all the extra nonsense and focusing on the subject.
This is a great tactic if the background is extremely busy and not important to the image. It’s also common in portraiture as the subject is the most important thing.
5 ) The Rule of Space
This rule states that you should employ more “negative space” in the direction a subject is moving or looking. The idea is that you want to give your subject a place to move or look.
You can also use the rule of space when considering the layout of your blog images. Once you recognize the direction a photo is moving, you can then use this to direct attention to the proper place. Consider the following examples when designing the layout of your images for your blog or blog post.
Here, in the photo on the left, the subject feels as if they are turning their back on our message.
Here, the subject is looking away from the wall of text on the right. Does that feel wrong? Hover over the Image.
Did you know your Images can direct your reader’s attention to where you want them to look? We call these site lines. Try to place your text where these site lines are pointing. It’s really just the rule of space but we are taking it to a whole other level.
Take this photo on the left. The site lines of this photo are pointing away from the text. Does that feel odd? Now, hover over the photo. How about now? Doesn’t that look better?
Images without people can also move in a specific direction. Take the following examples.
6 ) Symmetry
Symmetry is one of my favorite tools in the toolbox when seeking interesting compositions. Lexico.com defines Symmetry as “the quality of being made up of exactly similar parts facing each other or around an axis”.
Many photographers use water to find symmetry in their compositions. You can use a lake or large body of water to create a reflection of your subject.
You can also use something as simple as a puddle of water. The key here is to get low, especially if you are using a puddle. Get down there and make it happen.
Don’t have any water? Don’t worry, architecture is another great place to find symmetry. Start looking at architecture wherever you are. Look for patterns and repetition and you will find symmetry.
These buildings don’t just happen haphazardly. Someone took a whole lot of time, energy, and creativity to design and create these magnificent structures. The work has already been done for you. You just have to go find it.
7 ) Leading Lines and Diagonals
A leading line takes the viewer’s hand and guides them through the image, ultimately leading to the main subject.
Be on the lookout at all times for leading lines that will take the viewer’s eyes and lead them on a journey of depth and interest.
Leading lines can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, converging, intersecting, and curved. A common curved leading line is the S curve. It looks like the letter S or even just half of the letter S.
You can find leading lines almost anywhere. You just have to look when creating your composition.
Some common elements composing leading lines include bridges, buildings, dunes, fences, roads, shorelines, train tracks, trees, windowpanes, etc.
If you see a leading line but it’s not going anywhere, avoiding your subject, or exiting the photo before doing something meaningful then try re-positioning.
8 ) Golden Triangle – a Rule of Corners and Triangles
The Golden Triangle is a classic rule similar to the rule of thirds. This rule utilizes the use of diagonals and triangles instead of horizontal and vertical lines to create points of interest. See the example below.
I’ll be honest, this one is hard for me to visualize when out and about shooting. It’s also not something I really strive to achieve in post.
Whenever possible, I do try to make sure that my leading lines, see above rule, lineup with the corners of my photo. It’s not always possible to have all lines lead to corners but I try my best in camera.
If I don’t achieve the result I wanted in-camera than I sometimes crop the image accordingly. I’m sure some photographers employ this rule with much greater success and attention to detail.
9 ) Framing
Sure, you already frame your subject in the camera viewfinder but why not search for a frame within a frame. Framing your subject using existing elements in the scene is a great way to bring attention to your subject.
Framing can also provide depth to an image by offering the viewer a chance to navigate each layer individually for context.
You can use all kinds of things to frame your subject including arches, doorways, tree foliage, windows, and truthfully, just about anything.
10 ) Foreground Interest
Photos are inherently two-dimensional and it is only through technique and composition that we can achieve a feeling of depth and intrigue.
To accomplish this you need to be on the lookout for foreground interest when composing your shot.
11 ) Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition is defined as the act of placing two elements close together in order to compare or contrast the two.
You can use Juxtaposition to show the disparity between two concepts/ideas or conversely, the similarities and how they complement each other.
Typically, when I think about Juxtaposition in photography I also think of an image that tells a great story.
Imagine an image of a young boy fishing with his grandpa. This Juxtaposition here is one of age. This is a rather obvious example but you can explore the power of juxtaposition in other ways too.
Imagine a scene in which two children are sitting against a divider wall eating ice cream. Behind the divider wall further off in the background is the chaotic bustle of men and women in business attire. Do you see the Juxtaposition?
12 ) Balance
When considering all the rules and guidelines for composing your images you also want to think about balance in your image. For example, when using the rule of thirds your subject is not centered in the composition. Your subject is generally on one side of the image.
In order to achieve balance and interest throughout the photo, there needs to be some type of visual weight on the other half of the image, a secondary subject of lesser importance. Look at the image below.
13 ) Break The Rules
Certainly, you are going to run across more rules of composition. Often, there will be times it feels like the rules are contradicting each other. It doesn’t matter.
The important thing is that you know what the rules are. Then realize, there are no hard fast rules that you have to follow 100% of the time. You are the artist, you make the rules and create the image in the language your heart speaks.
Now What? Join the Tribe!
Want to join an amazing tribe of photographers, artists, and other creatives. Check out our Facebook group, NFT Photography Community.
Get out there and try utilizing these rules of composition in your own images. Share an image in the group that utilizes one or more of the rules above. Let’s all learn and grow as photographers together!
Also, don’t forget to jump on the email list to get some free Photoshop Overlays and my weekly email. I want to talk with you about inspiration, photography, blogging and just staying motivated.
Michael, this is excellent!! I loved reading this, especially as it helps to cement what I’ve been learning. I haven’t tried juxtaposition yet but now I want to. Your examples were lovely and so helpful. Thanks for your sense of humor to help lighten us up!!
I appreciate you Tammy, it’s awesome to have someone reading my blog that is taking photography classes right now. What has been really cool about writing this blog is that it helps bring clarity to my own work too. I also realized I was sorely lacking in images with clear juxtaposition. I’m actually still searching my catalog to give a concrete example. Or, maybe I just need to hit the street and start looking :)
I love your example with your niece! And I love her pink shoes! These are great tips, Michael. Great post!
Thanks so much Veronica, trial and error has always been my best teacher lol