Top 10 Composition Tips – Photography Course 3/10

composition in this lecture we're going to have a look at how you organize things in your photo just so that it feels more balanced or complete so we can have a look at my top 10 composition tips starting with what you think would be an obvious one try to make sure your horizons are horizontal but some people just have an inability to hold the camera square and every single photo they take is just a little bit wonky sometimes they say oh it doesn't matter it's digital surely we can just rotate it and crop it later on be surprised how much you lose in a picture when you rotate it and crop it just because it was all in there when it was wonky doesn't mean you'll be all in there or look any good by the time you've cropped it you lose huge wedges of every corner you also lose quality on your image obviously photos a horizontal and vertical rows of pixels and if you have to rotate it a little bit and then save it back into horizontal and vertical rows of course some pixels get smeared from here to here and you just lose a bit of clarity so you're better off getting it right in shot my best technique for that is really just look for something that's supposed to be horizontal like a horizon and then try and just check that it's parallel with the bottom of your viewfinder just match it up just to check it's parallel or a building that's supposed to be vertical just check it matches up with the side of your viewfinder a lot of cameras these days have that inbuilt digital level which is handy as well but the main thing is just spend a couple of seconds to make sure your photos square because it ruins a lot of photos and you don't have to try and fix it later rule of thirds you've probably heard of this one before it's a pretty important composition rule it's basically saying that yeah here's a nice enough photo of a hiker walking along a beach but for some reason this just feels a little bit nicer it's a little more balanced it's hard to work out exactly why but in its simplest form the rule of thirds is saying try not to just put your subject slap-bang in the middle of the photo as tempting as it is it normally looks nicer if you can deliberately put your subject off on the side give it some space in front of it and what's actually going on here is the rule of thirds let's just we're in your head you mentally divide your viewfinder up into these vertical and horizontal thirds and just trying to arrange as much as you can if your photo around those lines so if you've got a strong horizon you might put that on the bottom third or the top third depending on which bit of the photo needed more space if you're putting your subject off to the side you might move them off to this third or the other third another example here see it's just in the middle it doesn't look that exciting it just looks a whole lot nicer when you pull it off to the side in fact where those third lines intersect there's four points in a photo there if you can put the key bit of your image either your subject or the key bit of your subject on those intersection points that's a really powerful point in the photo and it looks really good sometimes you can have a bit of a dilemma as to which side of the photo do you put your subject on which third and you can just try and remember it as always try and give your subjects room to move into or see into you know if they're looking or moving in a direction no one cares about what's behind them what's been and gone they want to see forward so you crop out all the stuff behind them give them extra space in front some people call that nose room you're just giving space in front of things that's the same thing as a rule of thirds of course we all have a bit of a problem now because in the previous lecture we all went and put our center autofocus point on so the camera is only going to focus what's in a dead center of the shot now here I am saying oh but it looks so much better if you put your penguin off on one third now what that does mean is you do point directly at your subject first of all while you're focusing beep and then after has found that focus lock keep your finger half pressed and then you can reframe the shot and put your penguin off on the third or whatever you want for good composition before you depress the button all the way down to get the shot obviously otherwise if you start off with your penguin off on the side and you try and half press to focus it's just going to focus on the sky behind the penguin and you end up with a blurry subject so you point directly at your subject to start with ideally focus on its eye actually that's a good side tip if you have a photographing a person or an animal and you can see their eye in the shot that's where you've got to focus on that's the important part that has to be sharp so here you just be focusing on the the eye of the penguin half press it until it gets the focus then you keep your finger half pressed while you reframe to the side rule of thirds and then you depress the button all the way perfect so there you go that's how you use that center autofocus point to allow you to focus on exactly what you want in your image but you can still then recompose and put it wherever you want in the photo before you take the shot that's why you have that AFS or single shot focus rather than the tracking system I think about the only exception to the rule of thirds reflection photos where you don't feel like you have to put that horizontal division on the top or bottom third because the symmetry of what's going on is what make those photos beautiful anyway but I think in the vertical plane it still still applies but the key part of the photo where your eye is drawn to is obvious that tree phone so that's in the top third corner and bottom third corner kind of bounces it out vaguely still fitting the rule of thirds so trying to imagine this is a view at the back of a boat that you're on and you're trying to get a nice you know postcard shot of this bird and the sunset and things like that using the rule of thirds have a think in your head how you might frame that up hopefully you're thinking something along the lines of that you can see your horizons obviously a strong bottom third the clouds make the top third line there's a little bird he's a subject he's moving into the shot so we want to give him space to move into so we move him off to that right-hand third but then you have some people jump up and down and say are but you missed a lovely golden lining over there and the blue sky at the top what about that and just goes to show that the world doesn't always fit into nine magic boxes and you've often got to make a call between good composition and try to fit everything in I really think it's always important to try and have good composition people don't know what they're missing if you don't include it in the photo but what you include it's got to look nice framing is another good tip this is good for your landscape photos particularly framing is when you deliberately include something up close in your photo it tends to make it seem a bit more 3d gives it a lot more depth it also stops your eye falling off the edge of the photo you kind of frame it or hem it in by putting something along the edges in the sides look at this example here this is taken in Papua New Guinea you can see some nice volcanoes puffing away but it does look a little bit flat compared to this one which just has so much more depth to it and that's because I've deliberately got some close up foreground elements there as you can see it also tends to pull our attention back towards the middle of the photo again stops your eye just slipping off the edge and you probably have to admit that a lot of people make this mistake with their landscape shots where you know you get to a lookout and the first thing you do is you get everyone out of the way and if there's a fence there you've got to get over the fence cause that's in the way and if there's a tree you know you always fall off the edge of the cliff trying to get away from the tree to cut that out and you go to these great lengths to get an unobstructed view of the distant mountains but then the problem is everything in your photo is a million miles away and it just looks flat you're better off crouching down and trying to find a Tasik of grass that you can pop up into that corner or if there's a tree there great use that frame half you shot off with that same with this example sunset not a particularly good photo but it was a nice sunset but there was this stupid tree that kept on putting branches in the left inside of the shop and I had to keep on edging off to the right I almost fell off the balcony trying to get a clear view of the sky until it finally dawned on me it was probably nicer to let that tree come into the shot so it frames off that side of the shot makes it more 3d pulls our attention into the sunset looks a whole lot better another one here including those bushes at the top just frames off the top of the shot check your backgrounds this is my favorite trip from the entire course actually it's the easiest way to make your photos just look ten times better without having to do any kind of complex theory or anything at all the problem is the human eye is really good at ignoring what's going on in the background of your photo it's not until you get the picture back and then you'll be like oh really distracting element back there and can completely ruin the shot you know the car coming at the back of the elephant or it could be a power pole coming out of someone's head or a bright yellow car in the background that's just really distracting but the thing is it's like another whole level of consciousness you'll finally get to with your photography where the background is just one of the things you remember to check and you'll be like guru background wow that's really awkward if I just move a little bit to the side you don't have a telegraph pole coming out of your head anymore or whatever it is like this example with the lion you know the lion just blends in too much with the background you know it's the same color as a grass but if you get down lower you can get him against a bit of the sky and it just pops out there much nicer against that blue background so what about this example on Kangaroo Island I was photographing these little birds on a stick and you kind of sneak up as close as you can get and you think that that's probably the best place to take the photo from but look at the background behind the birds there you've got blue brown green no matter how good your lenses are blurring it out it's still a really terrible background the birds are dark and the background just behind them is dark and they all blend in you can't really see them you've got to look around and say where can I find a nice clean contrasting color to use as a background here what are our choices really it's just the sky reflected onto the water that nice blue color that'll be fantastic so if somehow I've got to get that behind your subject it could be a case of just getting a little higher like tippy-toe job or in this case I actually had to walk slightly back up the riverbank which seemed kind of counterintuitive because I had to walk further away but then you can get the most amazing blue uniform background that just looks spectacular well this one an ant on a stick that grey background there that's the road like the ash felt on the road you can see there is a bit of a green glow to the side there that's actually a leaf just out of shot so if I move the camera about a centimeter to the right you can end up with a green background which looks so much more beautiful honestly if you can just remember to glance into your background when you're taking a picture and just check if there's any distracting elements there or if you can just turn a bit and get a cleaner contrast in color makes a world of difference to your photos fill the frame sometimes I think photos just could do it being cropped in a little bit tighter people have this urge to try and fit everything in all the extremities and often the most important part if you could just concentrate on that it's a much more usable photo look at this one that might be the way you're tempted to take the photo because you want to fit it all in but actually that's probably better in fact that is a far better composition for the shot we all know that yachts have a big pointy bit at the top and that's not what we're interested in this it's just the interaction between the whale and the yacht and now we've zoomed in more the subject said bigger it's more interesting you can see the detail if it's a rule of thirds so we have the yacht on the top third intersection whale on the bottom third so they kind of balance there or this example I was trying to keep swimming as far ahead of this ladies I could so I could turn around and get a roll in shot but you know if you have to summarize that photo you'd probably say that's a woman swimming with a blue starfish but really this is exactly the same thing a woman swimming with a blue starfish but it's a much simpler cleaner sort of shot and it's probably more usable you could imagine that in a little brochure on a local dive resort or something not that she should be picking up starfish but now compared to the other photo there's just too much stuff going on there too distracting you're like what is that yellow thing she's carrying it's actually her shirt but looks like a bag is she's stealing starfish now sometimes it's nice at a simplifier photo down just to the key parts and they're often much more usable same with this one I saw this lady walking down the street carrying a bunch of fish and I was like well that's interesting get a photo of that but then luckily pretty quickly I realized hang on a second what is actually interesting here pretty sure it's not her wonderfully happy expression or the fact that there's a tractor coming along she's got no shoes on all those power lines coming out of her shoulder you know you've got to think what actually caught my attention here was the fact that she was carrying fish so maybe if I zoomed in a district a photo of fish carrying you're much more interesting shot even half the Fisher cutout but it doesn't matter you can you'll tell their fish you can imagine a photo like that turning up in a little brochure about the local marketplace or as that other photo it's going to go nowhere even a photo like this you don't need to fit the whole thing in you don't even need his whole head in there it's still enough to tell it's a beautiful shot of an elephant works quite strongly so just try to remember you don't always need to fit everything in cropping more cropping tighter often looks better leading lines now a leading line is any line coming into your photo from the outside and it serves to guide your eye through the photo like this one your eye comes in along the railing and then he goes out to where the people are and you see that they're people and you gaze out along there and you see the rainbow and it all just ties together very neatly otherwise some photos can just feel a bit disjoint you have to kind of look around for a while then go oh it's interesting and all that's interesting over there as well it's just not as smooth if you can link things up with a line it often looks better sure you don't always have convenient leading lines around but if you look for them you can often find them and if you do have a leading line good tip is to make sure it comes in through the corner of your shot leading lines always look a lot more effective if they come in exactly from the corner anything but eye level this composition tip is just saying try not to take every single photo from just normal standing up height because then everything always just looks the same you know getting up high or getting down low can be a way to just add a whole new angle of interest to a photo completely different perspective on an otherwise quite boring subject perhaps you know that's just a photo of Jess on a bike not the most exciting subject in the world but because it's taken from that really low vantage point these are the kind of photos that stop you when you're flicking through a magazine because your brain basically goes yeah I know that's a bike but gee that's that's weird eyes taken from down I get it same photo of a penguin taking it to different heights you can really feel a different vibe in those two photos one feels quite tall and regal the other one feels like a little penguin shuffling around on the ground at the very least though if you're not trying to do some creative angle you should always try to remember to get down to the same height as whatever it is you're photographing so if you're photographing the family dog get down to dog height more kids because you otherwise just end up with photos where the kids are kind of having to look up into the photo and you feel very separated so here's a photo of a gecko obviously that's taken down quite low but it's not low enough it's usually get down to the same height as whatever it is you're photographing you end up with a much more intimate action that's just a much stronger photo you can see this photo is also a good example of rule of thirds that geckos I the key bit is in that top third intersection corner and you can see how important it is to focus on the eyes as well so you can see the front of his nose is blurry everything behind the eye the rest of the body is completely blurry very thin depth of field but because the eye is sharp that's all it matters when you look at the photo look for details that's part of the fun of being a photographer I think you start to spot little things that other people didn't even notice and then when you get a photo of it it's amazing people just go how did you even see that let alone get a picture it's very easy to get interesting photos if you start to look for the little details you could just be walking through your garden or a jungle or something and find the way that beautiful little leaves have little curls on the end of them or raindrops on the back of a leaf or the way the spores grow on the back of a fern leaf feather details we were out photographing all Aroo a couple of years ago and you know the Sun went down we got some nice photos and then we'll just sort of thinking what we can do now and just actually spotted the reflection of Oliver in my eye but she's got far more beautiful eyes than I do so he swapped positions and I got a macro lens out and took a photo of all the reflected in her eye people love this kind of photo you know technically it's a terrible photo it's just about all blurry but just because it's one of those little details that people go wow how did you even see that that's a great shot so keep your eye out for little details and textures and things like that they can be good photos okay god I'm able to take some vertical photos as well a lot of us just only ever take horizontal photos and that's a bit sad because some subjects just fit a vertical frame a whole lot better even long sweeping landscape shots like this one you can still have a vertical version of that and it still works actually when I went on my first Australian Geographic assignment I was reading the contract points and one of them actually said every single thing you photograph you must take a horizontal and a vertical version of every single thing and then blew me away often one of them might look better than the other fair enough but you can always take both and they always work this one the feeling is more wow what an amazing open view she has out that way Wow would that be incredible and the other photos a bit more like oh don't don't stand so close to the edge your eye travels down the mountain instead it feels taller now if it feels awkward for you to take vertical photos and that's a good sign that you're not taking enough of them maybe pretend you're on assignment for a while next time you're taking a picture force yourself to work out how to make it fit nice composition vertically take some of that as well it'll just be good practice for you and the last one break these rules sometimes you know photography is a creative outlet it's not like engineering where you've got your top ten checklist and you better double check you've got every single one done otherwise the bridge is going to fall down you're going to kill someone you know photography is fun especially with digital you can try all these different settings and weird angles that you're pretty sure I'm going to work at all but sometimes they do and you're like that looks cool I know you might hate it I don't mind it though I can imagine it turning up in a magazine somewhere but you know I think it breaks every rule I can think of the dog's eye is probably the key bit in the photo and that's the dead center there's no rule of thirds going on it's probably about 30 degrees wonky and I know I say don't always try and fit everything in but I wouldn't normally just cut off a third of someone's face and cut their toes off but yeah sometimes still works so feel free to break these rules it's really just there as a scapegoat you know if you failed on all nine of those other points you can just say you're concentrating on the last one so in the next lecture we're going to look at exposure you know sometimes the photos are a bit too bright bit too dark how do you fix that histograms that kind of thing start to learn a lot more more advanced stuff you

47 Replies to “Top 10 Composition Tips – Photography Course 3/10”

  1. Thankyou Chris as always your wisdom is amazing I just took a photo using my 50mm lens but while thats not different what was different is I took your advice and put a tree in the corner of the photograph of my sunset .. and OH WOW it was AMAZING wish I could post it here to show you

  2. When my girlfriend left for a two week period to Asia for work, I took a picture with her plane at the uper right rule-of-3 point, to hamer home she was leaving me behind 😉

  3. Thank you Chris, this video was clear and neat. One of the best videos I've watched on composition.

  4. the simplicity and clarity of the presentation is awesome! feels like we have just read a whole book about the subject discussed. thank you. learnt a lot. and of course, summing up each topic with an image example adds to the learning.

  5. very smart composition…I have learnt so much in just these 2 parts. Thanks mate…Richard from Brissy Australia…

  6. my God. My world of photography has just opened up…I cant get enough you this!! FINALLY someone who can TEACH!! Wow!!

  7. Chris, Very good Video! Ive been a Pro for more than 40 years here in Hawaii. Your delivery is Excellent! It seems to me that you have been blessed with a Great gift for teaching! Its not possible to teach or Learn the numerous subliminal nuances necessary to be a Great teacher on Youtube for example but you just naturally have what it takes to be a great teacher! Even though I know very well most of the details you mentioned I was really enjoying your lesson! Keep up the good Work! My website for reference is

  8. Excellent review. I love your detailed description of each Rule of Composition. This vid is definitely a “keeper” for me to watch numerous times in the future.

  9. Messi Backgrounds destroy 90% of my Photos 😉

    You are very good to hold the attention over such a long video.

  10. Nice. Simple. Clean. You explain your subjects without over thinking, nor over explaining. Subbed! 👍

  11. Thank you, Chris, for this video. I use Rule of Thirds and Framing but I didn't know the names! Now, I know and understand them better!

  12. Great tips! Thank you for them. Now, if only I could remember to always implement them I really believe they'd work to improve my photography. Again, thank you.

  13. Naive example with penguin . Consider that animal was moving but not standing still waiting you to focus on its eye …

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