5 Tips On Composition To Get You Started

You've all seen those pictures on websites and in the magazines. You get your new camera and open the box with excitement, while picturing those scenes in your head. You point and click your camera, but the resulting picture doesn't look much like that picture in your head, or in that magazine... You feel dejected. You spent all that money and you still can't get the results you want.

It doesn't have to be like that.

Expecting fabulous results just like that is un-realistic. It's a bit like buying a great set of paints and being disappointed when you don't get results like Van Gough. But the good news is that photography was invented by frustrated painters - photography literally means "painting with light". More good news - you don't have to be Van Gough to take great photos. As long as you can tell your camera what to do it will create the picture for you. That's the catch though. You have to be able to tell your camera what to do - which isn't actually that difficult - it just means taking a few decisions, changing a couple of settings shooting looking at the results - learn, rinse, repeat, improve. In essence - that's photography.

So where do you start?

Well, a good place to start is composition - it will make a huge difference to your results. Here are some tips to get you started...

Consider Your Angle

This is an easy starter. Everyone takes photos from their standing height - and that is not always wrong. If you give some consideration to where you are taking the photograph from and moving yourself to a better viewpoint then your picture can be infinitely improved.

For example, if you are taking a photograph of something small like a child, a flower, a small animal - consider taking the photograph from the height of your subject. You can see the difference that can make in the 2 shots below, They were taken on the same camera, literally 2 meters apart.

Both pictures were taken on the same camera, literally 2 meters apart.

Consider Your Background

What's my background got to do with the price of chips I hear you ask? I'm taking a photo of my friends - why would anything else matter? Fair enough you want to photograph your friends, but you also want your friends to stand out.

Take another look at the pictures above. The purple flower is almost lost in the background clutter of other plants.That said, your eyes are immediately drawn into the poppy in the other picture, because the background has no clutter. (Note if you had taken the photograph of the poppy from above you would have had background clutter). You want the eyes to be drawn to the subject of your photograph, your friends, you don't want them to be lost in the background - or worse - overshadowed by it.

Join the Beginners Photography Lounge

Get tips and tricks, explore new skills, have fun, and meet like minded people. All from the safety of our private Facebook Group.

Contrast Of Colour And Texture

Using contrast in your picture can be striking and draw your subject out. Again the picture of the poppy above uses that technique. The red against the green is striking, as is the absence of texture in the green and the abundance of texture in the red poppy. 

You don't need a complete absence of texture in the background to take advantage of this concept. Look at the picture to the right.

In this picture the texture of the grass works well against the dog - and it's that texture which tells part of the story. There is no clutter in the background, but there is texture and contrast.

[Oh, and here's a handy hint. Bluring the background can really help give some contrast of texture. This blurring is called the bokeh effect and is controlled by your camera's "aperture" setting].


If you become familiar with your camera's exposure settings, you can avoid some of the common mistakes which cause your friend's face to be silhouetted against a lovely backdrop that was never intended to be the focus of the picture. This phenomenon is demonstrated below:

The reason this happens is that the wrong exposure setting is being used. What matters is where the camera is taking the light reading from (the intensity of the light enables your camera to determine the correct exposure needed for the shot). If the camera is using "blanket metering" it is taking the average light reading from the whole of the shot to be taken. That is the kind of metering which will produce the shot above where the little boy is hidden in shadow. There is a lot less light in the tunnel than outside, which the blanket (average) meter reading hasn't adjusted for - it wasn't told to - it was told to take an average reading.

The other picture uses "spot metering". Spot metering is where you choose the spot in the picture where you want the camera to take the light reading from. In this case the camera will have metered on the boy's face. Most cameras (including some compact cameras) allow you to switch between different kinds of metering. Just knowing this can save you many a lots picture opportunity,

The Rule Of Thirds

I've left this rule until last because, although it works, it's technically wrong. (If you are a technical nerd, the thirds should be aligned with the "golden ratio"). Personally from experience the rule of thirds works really well, and is far easier to implement. It is this rule of thirds which might well make the biggest difference to your photography, because it tells you where to place objects in your picture for a better effect, and make your images more pleasing to the eye. It is one of the best known and most popular "rules" of composition.

Rule of Thirds Grid

Imagine a thirds grid over every picture you take from now on (like this one over the picture of the puffin). Place objects of interest along the thirds - especially at the intersections of the thirds - see where the puffin's eye is placed - almost on the intersection - the bird itself being lined up on the left third. He's looking into the photograph. Never place a horizon in the center of a photograph - always place it on one of the horizontal thirds lines.

What Now?

Why not grab your camera and try some of these techniques out. Have fun with it and remember it takes practice. Learning from mistakes is one of the best ways to learn photography. We are no longer in an age where you have to wait 2 weeks for your film to be processed. Results are instant, and you can take, and delete, as many pictures as you like. You only have to show people the good pictures 🙂

I'd love to know whether this article was helpful or whether you have any particular photography issues you'd like me to deal with in future articles. Please don't be afraid to comment below 🙂

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get in touch

Please get in touch if you have any questions, if there is anything you'd like us to cover, or if there's anything else you'd like to say. We'd love to hear from you!