Have you ever experienced feeling incredibly moved by a great photo? Or have you seen a photographer’s collection of shots that made you feel a strong emotion? These are what brilliant photos can do. 

Photos that have a powerful effect on people’s emotions are created with a combination of skills that are the result of the overall composition of the photograph. These skills are surprisingly easy to learn and adopt into your own way of taking photos.

If you are looking to create an impactful photo, these are 15 great composition tips to help you improve your way of taking photos. 

In a hurry? Here are our top 15 composition tips to help improve your photos: 

  1. Follow the rule of thirds
  2. Use a natural frame
  3. Take a step back
  4. Fill the frame
  5. Work with negative space
  6. Use leading lines
  7. Use cohesive colours
  8. Learn juxtaposition
  9. Blur the background
  10. Use the contrast of shadow and light
  11. Simplify the background
  12. Look for symmetry
  13. Look for patterns
  14. Look for a unique perspective
  15. Add movement

Follow the Rule of Thirds

This is most likely the very first and most popular composition technique that’s taught universally in all photography classes. 

To do the rule of thirds, you need to start by dividing your frame into 9 rectangles, by imagining 3 lines across and 3 lines horizontally down the frame. You can use your camera’s built-in frame guidelines to help you. 

From these guidelines, you then place your main subjects around the areas where the lines are or where the lines intersect each other. This is an effective way of improving your photos, as it invites you to look at the image for more than 3 seconds. 

If your subject is directly in the middle of the photo, it will look familiar, which can sometimes result in a less powerful image. If you are able to invite someone to look at your photo for longer, it can add to the effect this has on their perception of your image.

Selective focus photo of black Canon DSLR camera on tripod | Photo: Alexandra G. STRAVRICA via Unsplash

Selective focus photo of black Canon DSLR camera on tripod | Photo: Alexandra G. STRAVRICA via Unsplash

Use a Natural Frame

Another effective way to create impactful photos is by finding natural frames to incorporate into your shots. This can be anything that can be captured in a photo that naturally frames a subject.

For example, if your subject is the view outside a window, you can step back and allow the actual window frame to ‘frame’ the view you are trying to capture. This will create a specific type of depth and can help to emphasize the intended subject of the photo.  

Take a Step Back

Sometimes, photographers are so focused on their subject that they forget to just step back and allow the surroundings to help tell the story.

Try to practice taking photos of your subject by stepping back and exploring what you can include in your frame. Sometimes, this can improve the way you tell stories through your images and it can help to add depth to the scene. This is an exercise that will help you become more aware of what you can create with what your background has to offer. 

Fill the Frame

Oppositely of taking a step back, sometimes there are times when you will want to completely fill the frame with your subject. Maybe you’re taking a portrait of someone with amazing eyes and a freckle-filled face – this can be a perfect time to get up close to your subject and fill the frame so it only includes a portion of their face.

Work with Negative Space

Negative space refers to the empty spaces in a photo. More specifically, it’s leaving empty spaces around the subject. This helps bring the subject forward to stand out in its surroundings. You can do this by trying your best to find an open space or an empty background that you can frame your photo around. 

Additionally, you can pair negative space with the rule of thirds for an interesting composition. Try placing your main subject to the left third of the frame while keeping the right third fairly empty. 

Man jumping on brown sand during daytime | Photo: Persnickety Prints vis Unsplash

Man jumping on brown sand during daytime | Photo: Persnickety Prints vis Unsplash

Use Leading Lines

Leading lines refer to any lines that point to, or guide your eyes towards the subject matter. A really simple example of this is if you take a photo of a road leading off into the horizon. Your eyes begin by looking at the road, and then they are naturally taken through the frame. 

Use Cohesive Colours

If you can find a way to make the colours in your photo work cohesively together to look aesthetically pleasing, then this is a great way to enhance the impact of your shot.

For example, if your subject is a tree, try your best to only include the colours that work with brown and green in your frame. If there are too many colours that are not positioned in a cohesive way, then a photo can quickly look cluttered.

Learn Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is the composition technique that uses two contradicting ideas or visual elements to help create a comparative idea or effect in a photo. This is an effective tool if you want to emphasize the extent of something. 

For example, if you want to emphasize how dirty a pair of shoes are, place them relatively close to shoes that are exceptionally clean. This will help give a stronger impression of how filthy the shoes really are compared to the clean shoes.

Blur the Background

When you purposely take your photo with a blurred background, it is pleasing to the eye. This is because it is able to mimic the way our own eyes focuses on points while blurring everything else around that. 

To get a blurred background effect on your camera, you’ll need to widen the aperture by adjusting your settings setting towards the smallest f-stop number your camera has. The lower the f-stop number is, the wider the aperture, and the more blurred your background can be. 

Most zoom lenses have an f-stop of 2.8. To get even better results, use a prime lens. These lenses are capable of reaching aperture settings up to f/1. This will create incredible blurred background effects. 

Selective focus photography of person viewing mountains | Photo: Devin Justesen

Selective focus photography of person viewing mountains | Photo: Devin Justesen via Unsplash

Use the Contrast of Shadow and Light

A great way of creating a certain mood, or highlighting a specific subject, is playing with the contrast of shadow and light in your photos. See what you can do by altering the shutter speed and ISO of your camera to create more shadows and to emphasize the bright aspects of your photo. 

For example, if you want to make a scene look more emotional and sad, you should work towards creating more shadows in your photos. On the other hand, if you want a subject happy and excited, you should add more light to the photo, make it brighter, and highlight shadows that are too dark. 

Simplify the Background

If you want your subject to really stand out, take your photo in such a way that the background is simplified. This means removing or avoiding any type of clutter or distracting objects in the background. Sometimes, simple white or black backgrounds can be the most powerful, because it brings attention entirely to your subject. 

Look for Symmetry

Finding the perfect symmetry within a frame looks incredibly intriguing. The use of symmetry can work especially well when photographing architecture. When trying to make an image symmetrical, it is very important that you make sure the elements in the frame are actually lined up properly. If the symmetry ends up being misaligned, it can look like the photo was not fully thought through.

Structural photography of green train coach | Photo: James Best via Unsplash

Structural photography of green train coach | Photo: James Best via Unsplash

Look for Patterns

Much like symmetry, capturing natural patterns in your photos are just as intriguing and interesting to look at. It’ll make you look twice at how these patterns happen, without it ever being forced. 

Look for a Unique Perspective

Take the photo from the most unconventional angles. Don’t settle for taking your photo from the perspective most people will take it from. Look for ways to change how you will portray your subject. It should be new and rarely ever seen before. This will help create the most impactful images.

You can choose to look at your subject from the back or from an angle so low that your camera is looking up at your subject from the floor. Experiment with your perspective. You might just discover great angles you never thought were there. 

Add Movement

Don’t be afraid to add movement to the overall composition. If you’re taking action photos of someone running in a race, consider slowing your shutter down to capture the movement of the runner as they race through your frame. Or if it’s windy outside, let your subject’s hair blow in the breeze to help give context to the overall photograph.

Red and white dirt bike | Photo: Rodolfo Clix via Pexels

Red and white dirt bike | Photo: Rodolfo Clix via Pexels

To get the best results as you take photos, use these composition tips to improve your images in ways that will emphasize the story and the emotions you are trying to evoke.

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