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How-to's

Improve your photography with 5 easy composition tricks

Tom Bone (flashdeadline)


Keywords: composition, guides, tips

Show pages (4 Pages)

Do you want to take better pictures? Sure you do.

In these days of instant gratification our Nikonians professionals have noticed that some of our members don't want to wade through a pile of technical explanations. They just want good pictures — fast.

If fast is what you're looking for we have it condensed into five easy tricks.

Nikon D7000 DSLR camera
 

 

Here they are:

1. Center is not better
2. Step closer
3. Switch perspective
4. Leave lead room
5. Take three shots

 

There it is, decades of professional photography, condensed into five easy tricks, and the key to success is you should use at least three of them with every picture you take.


Quick Exercise

Take a look at the following series of A and B shots. Decide which you like better, and let's see which of the five "tricks" were combined to sway your choice:

 

 

Fishing

 

 

Group Shot

 

 

Limbo

 

 

Photographer

 

 

Runner

 

All of those B shots above share Trick number 1. Use this and you will see instant results.


 

If you've ever played Tic-tac-toe you probably remember that the center square is a valuable spot. In photography the opposite is often the case. Take a look at those two photos of the limbo dance.

 

 

 

If we drew a Tic-Tac-Toe diagram on the shots they would look like this.

 

 

 

 

The diagram represents one of the most famous of all photography composition principals, called the Rule of Thirds.

Two things you will find very quickly. First, it's not a hard and fast rule — second, it's not always about thirds. One interpretation of the rule is that the optimum spot for the subject of your photo should be at the point where those lines intersect (I turned those into "spots" in my illustration).

This gives you four possible "sweet spots" on every photo.

As you can see you don't always have to be directly on the intersecting points. The man's face is close but not exactly on the spot.

The Rule of Thirds has one very key ingredient. It basically says center is not always better. For an exercise, shoot your next roll of film (or CF card) with just one rule in mind. Avoid dead center.

Give it a try, but make sure you understand your camera's ability to lock focus. Most current film and digital cameras will allow you to focus in on your subject, partially depress the shutter to lock, and then shift your viewing angle before taking the picture. This exercise will help you harness that power, and you'll start seeing photo potential with a whole new eye towards composition.

Did you notice that second shot above also uses all four of the other tricks?


Our group shot shows what happens when you get rid of the unnecessary portions of a photo by just getting closer.

Group © Tom Boné

If you drew that Rule of Thirds diagram on this one it would easily rest one of those intersected lines in the middle of the foreground man's face. Of course, if you have a zoom lens, you can "step closer" by merely zooming in. The group shot also uses three of the other tricks, missing only the "Leave lead room" option.

Switch perspective

Our photos of the photographer have something in common with the limbo shot and the group shot. In all three photos the end result was improved by merely moving the camera. It may sound like an obvious point, but just think of the many times you've seen photographers stop, aim and freeze in one location instead of moving between shots.

 

You can switch perspective by either stepping to one side, or rotating your camera for a strong vertical shot like our fisherman picture.

 

Perspective is not always related to where you stand by the way.

 

Take a look at these two pictures side by side and choose your favorite:

 

 

If you like the bigger fish on the right, you may be surprised to know it's the same fish as the one on the left. In this case, the fish got "bigger" by merely having our young fisherman hold it out at arm's length.

 

Don't forget that your shooting perspective will benefit if you get eye-level with your subject, as in this photo of a puppy.

Our cute puppy also shows you can indeed defy the famous "Rule of Thirds."

 


This trick is often used in sports photography, like our young baseball runner.

Group © Tom Boné

 

As your eyes scan a photo for the first time, your mind will expect to see a bit on front of your subject.Here's a shot of another photographer that will leave your eyes disappointed:

 

The easy way to remember this trick is to see which way your subject is either moving or looking, and give the subject some leading room to the front of that motion.


Take three shots

This is a trick that uses the old method of "bracketing" exposures. Bracketing is the practice of shooting one picture at the given light meter settings, and then quickly shooting two more shots, with higher and lower exposure values. It was simple insurance that in one of those three shots you nailed the correct exposure.

Exposure bracketing is not the purpose behind trick number five. It's purely a reminder that when you have the time, don't stop shooting after one click of the shutter. Take two more!

This last trick is by no means the least important, because if you look through your collection of photographs and find that one picture you wished could have been better, you will quickly see that what your thinking is "why didn't I shoot one more from this angle, or that position?" The answer is easy-- if you want "keepers" shoot at least three of everything.


Summary

Composition techniques are the subject of books and college level courses. If you want quick results, try our five tricks, but if you want lasting results, take the time to read your camera manual and make sure you visit our Constructive Critique - Artistic & Technical Advice forum.

(5 Votes )
Show pages (4 Pages)

Originally written on July 25, 2011

Last updated on October 3, 2016

Tom Bone Tom Bone (flashdeadline)

Expert professional photojournalist Awarded for his multiple contributions to the eZine, Newsletters and more

Havelock, USA
Admin, 4177 posts

6 comments

Ray Milbrandt (iiKaptain) on March 11, 2014

Thanks for this... Interesting to look think and shoot to get the best out of what you see.

Daniel Buckenmyer (dbuckenmyer) on February 11, 2014

Tom, I respectfully disagree that the photo of the band lacks lead room. Since the front man is looking back into the photo (his head turned to the left) the lead room is the whole rest of the shot. You managed to nail all five suggestions with this shot.

Christina Polychronopoulos (xronop) on February 1, 2014

Photos make it easy to get the idea across that "center is not better"!One can see easily the difference between them. Thank you.

Harry Chen (charry3892) on January 28, 2014

Images were explain everything in simple way more than words,good job. Thanks

Johnathan Cartwright (cartwrightjm) on December 29, 2013

Good tips for a beginner, and being a beginner I know have a place to start for composition ideas.

Thomas B. Padgett (DrTom60) on August 5, 2013

As a work in progress photographer, these tips make me think more about composition. It forces me to think and not just put everything in the center of the frame. Thank you

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