Composition Tips + A Challenge!

We’ve been talking a LOT about the technical side of photography lately, so I wanted to take a break and focus more on the artistic side. I’m hopeful that these tips on composition will inspire you to grab your camera and spend some time shooting this week. If you’re short on time, just use your phone!

The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is probably the most widely understood concept when it comes to photographic composition. It’s also the easiest to implement as most cameras have the guides inside of the viewfinder!

The idea is that you take any scene and divide the space into 9 equal sections and then aim to put the most interesting aspect of your subject on one of the four intersections. Thinking about this while we’re shooting offers the added benefit of really focusing on what is interesting about the image – is it the eyes? The smile? The interaction between two people? What do you want to convey? Think about this and frame your photo accordingly.

Pro Tip: Did you know that you can set your iPhone settings so that your iPhone camera shows this grid, too? Go to Settings > Camera and toggle the Grid option:

When my kids are at school, Scout is my only willing subject.

Breaking the Rule of Thirds 🙂

Like every good rule, this one is meant to be broken. Go ahead, be a rebel, I won’t tell. Here are a couple of examples of breaking the rule of thirds, and a bit about why I went that direction.

I really liked the very subtle lines in the grass and cropped this photo to remove the horizon line, which was cluttered with bushes and trees and didn’t add anything to the image. Having Lucy and Scout in the center was more visually pleasing than having them off-center.

Pro Tip: Try playing around with the composition after the fact by experimenting with different crops.  Photoshop and Lightroom both show this grid when using the crop tool!
When a portrait conveys a mood like this one, because nothing is front and center quite like an almost-teenage girl’s mood du jour.
With Parker centered, she is the focus and her dad acts in a supporting role (hello, toddlerhood). Had I kept the two of them on an intersection of lines, they’d have equal billing in the photo and that isn’t the message I wanted to convey.

Filling the Frame

When in doubt (or when in a cluttered space, or when in a foliage-free climate, or when you simply want to capture a stunning portrait), fill the frame with your subject. This is one of my methods for consistently capturing captivating portraits no matter where we’re shooting. Messy toy room? No problem.

If you could see the entirety of his surroundings, the image would not be nearly as strong. 
P.S. I broke the rule of thirds here, too!
Such a simple shot but it conveys so much because there’s nothing to distract us from what’s happening.

Negative Space

Conversely, leaving lots of space around your subject can create an equally interesting image.

I love the dueling expanses of grass and sky!
The big sky in this image shows how small our little subject really is!

Leading Lines, Perspective and Framing

Notice the leading lines on the planks and again on the wall – both sets draw your eye towards the subject. Pay attention to the lines when you’re framing your images and challenge yourself to find lines that lead to something interesting. You’ll need to move yourself side to side and up and down to find the right perspective but it’s totally worth the effort!
Play around with different perspectives. Shooting from above always makes for a fun and unexpected shot.
Try framing your subjects within their surroundings. Shots like this will take a lot of movement on your part, but they’re super fun. 

Let’s wrap this up with a little challenge. You don’t even need to bring out your fancy camera – your phone will do just fine. Spend some time this week working on the following composition concepts, and then come and share them in the RYC Facebook group!

  1. Rules of Thirds
  2. Break the Rule of Thirds
  3. Fill your frame
  4. Negative space
  5. Leading lines
  6. Change of perspective
  7. Frame your subject with their surroundings

I can’t wait to see what you create!