Ten Simple Tips for Better Photography
This NoteStream will introduce you to ten photo compositions guaranteed to increase the value of your images. If you’re a novice photographer, keeping these compositions in mind will change the way you look at how you photograph family, friends, strangers, landscapes, and more. With a little practice, you’ll be shooting more “keepers” than ever before.
"Very good, simple, clear explanations and examples; some I knew; several others that I can't wait to try out." 5 stars by Mark
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The next ten notes will change the way you take and look at pictures.
The following notes discuss photographic compositions that you can use in your everyday or vacation photos. These compositions are often combined, and chances are you’ve already used them in your own photographs.
The first 7 compositions can be done with any camera, including phone cameras and video! For intended execution of the the last 3 compositions though, you’ll need to read up on some of your camera settings that control shutter speed, lens aperture, and exposure.
Remember that it’s more important to get the shot, than miss the shot because you were thinking too much about composition. Capture the moment first. Composition will come with practice and a little luck.
Let’s get started… Swipe further to learn about your first composition, the Rule of Thirds.
Rule of Thirds
Your subject may be more interesting when off-center.
A common, and surprisingly easy technique that will upgrade your photos immediately is the Rule of Thirds. This composition places your main subject off-center and allows you to include additional elements in your frame to enhance your storytelling.
To do this, imagine that your frame is divided in a grid of thirds as I’ve shown here. Place your subject, in this case, the sketchbook shown above, along one of the imaginary grid lines. When I place the book on the first imaginary vertical line, I’m allowing more room to show the boy. In doing so, I’m telling a more complete story.
Note: You’ll want to feel comfortable with controlling your camera’s focal point. Most cameras will autofocus on the center, or the closest object to the camera. In the image above, I manually focused on the sketch book.
(Picture: Drawing Sculptures, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2010.)
Make the subject look larger or even intimidating.
A Low Angle composition places the camera lower than the subject. Low Angle compositions provide a different perspective of the subject that’s not normally seen at eye-level.
If the subject itself is naturally higher or taller than you, then simply shoot upwards. In this example, I was already standing under the staircase at the ground floor.
When you’re out shooting, ask yourself if the subject would be more interesting if you were below it. If so, consider laying on the ground, and you might have a stronger image than one taken at eye level.
(Picture: Apple Store, New York City, 2013.)
Make the subject look smaller or less intimidating.
A High Angle composition places the camera higher than the subject. You could be shooting out a high window as shown above, or simply stand on a chair or other object to get a slightly higher angle on your subject.
Like the Low Angle, the High Angle provides a different perspective of the subject that’s not normally seen at eye-level.
When you’re out shooting, ask yourself if the image would be more interesting if you were above the subject. If so, get up there! Find a way to be higher than your subject, and you might have a stronger image than one taken at eye level.
(Picture: Down on Broadway, New York City, 2013.)
Victory, agony, excitement, sadness, or all of the above.
Mood compositions often contain expressions on living subjects, like a laughing child, a happy dog, or perhaps something less uplifting. Mood, done correctly, should make you pause to think about how it would feel to be in the frame with the subject.
The mood example above is gloomy. It doesn’t excite you, but it doesn’t necessarily make you sad. Maybe you’ve been waiting in a place like this. Maybe you can imagine what it would be like to wait for a bus here.
You may find it more more fun to shoot the exciting subjects, so do that first. Subjects that are happy and excited are generally more willing to allow you into their environment. So get out there and shoot something happy.
(Picture: Greyhound Bus Station, Fresno, 2014.)
Use mirrors, glass, water, chrome, or other reflective surfaces to emphasize your subject.
This is a classic Reflection, and quite easy to recognize. The subject, a nervous competitor, is reflected through a bathroom mirror. I’m just out of the frame, shooting over her shoulders. Reflection can be used in portraits, but is also common in landscapes as well, where mountains reflect in a lake, or city lights on a wet street.
When used creatively, Reflection can add a lot to a subject. It can capture a candid moment, it can punctuate your subject, or it can make them more abstract.
Look for reflective surfaces like chrome hubcaps, big window panes, or wet surfaces. Reflection is a little less spontaneous than other compositions, but worth looking for.
(Picture: Competitor, Fresno, 2014.)
Border your subject with other elements in the frame.
Framing is a less common, but very powerful composition that immediately draws the eye of the viewer to your subject. Sometimes Framing just happens, and sometimes you have to look for it.
A classic Framing example uses a window frame with the subject, typically a person or animal, looking through the glass pane. Other examples of framing might show a building between two big trees, or a person standing in a doorway. In the example above, the subject (my wife), is framed by my daughter’s arms.
Start simple - find that window or doorway (the tighter the frame is alongside the subject, the better). Then, when you get tired of windows and doors, look for other, more abstract ways to frame your subject. That’s when Framing gets interesting!
(Picture: Early Risers, Fresno, 2014.)
Generally available, the Leading Line is easy to find and use.
The Leading Line is named as such because it leads the viewer's eye towards or away from your subject. Sometimes, the line itself, can be the subject.
You can find Leading Lines on edges, fences, roads, a row of motorcycles, a hose, a rope, or a wall. The lines are all around you; you just have to look for them. The image above displays the remarkably tidy row of portable toilets assembled for a running relay; Not your everyday subject, but it certainly caught my eye.
(Picture: Ragnaristan, San Diego County, 2012.)
The subject of lighting is considerable, and unlike the other compositions described here, entire books, videos and courses have been created on the subject.
In short, Lighting is a compositional element that can be used through natural light (the sun) or an artificial light source (such as a built-in flash or off-camera strobe). There are as many ways to control lighting as there are examples.
The image above intentionally uses the exterior light of the sun, filtered by the cloudy sky, to produce a backlit silhouette of a child pretending to fly.
Start with the best source of light available: the Sun. Shoot in the morning or afternoon hours when the sun is low. Mid-day light is challenging. At night or indoors, you’ll need to turn to artificial light, so you’ll need to read up on your camera’s built-in flash settings and its usage.
(Picture: Ready for Takeoff, SeaTac Airport, 2007.)
When we think of action photography, we typically think of sports, although anything showing movement falls into this category, including children, animals or vehicles.
Action stops time and emotion. Action photography might show the subject as frozen in a moment, or it might intentionally blur the subject.
Capturing things that are moving quickly can result in some stunning images. Freezing the subject with a fast shutter speed usually shows more emotion, typically with fast moving people or animals. Alternatively, a slower shutter speed will intentionally blur a moving object such as a race car to effectively express its velocity.
To freeze or intentionally blur motion, get familiar with your camera’s manual Shutter Speed Priority settings. This image was shot with a manual set shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second.
(Picture: Backyard Trampoline, Long Beach, 2014.)
Depth of Field
Control image clarity in front of and behind your subject.
When considering Depth of Field, you are deliberately deciding to make everything in front of and behind your subject either sharp or out of focus.
When you open up your aperture (a smaller f number), you decrease your depth of field, meaning you have a shallow area of sharpness in front of and behind your focal point providing blur as in the photo above). When you close your aperture, (the larger f number), you increase the sharpness of the area in front and behind your focal point. Imagine a portrait in front of the Grand Canyon — you’ll want a high aperture so the canyon itself, as well as your subject, will be in focus.
To control aperture, get familiar with your camera’s manual Aperture Priority settings. This image was shot with a manually set aperture fstop setting of f3.2.
(Picture: Cinelli bars on Paramount Tandem, Long Beach, 2013.)
Practice your new skill
Practice what you’ve learned by looking at your own “keepers”, magazines, or other Notestreams!
Now that you know the secret to composing great photos through this NoteStream, practice your knowledge.
Look through your personal “keeper” photos. What compositions make them stronger photos than others? Next time you’re in a waiting room, flip through the magazines and try to identify the combinations of photographic compositions. Play a game of photo-composition-bingo!
Better yet, grab your camera and get out there and shoot! Pick a composition that interests you; Leading Line for instance, and shoot ten examples. Then, tomorrow, go shoot ten Low Angles, and the next day, shoot ten Rule of Thirds, and so on. Soon, you’ll have 100 practice shots and you’ll be well on your way to shooting like a pro!
Remember that to intentionally pull off Lighting, Action, Depth of Field or any combination, you’ll need to dig deeper into your camera’s operating instructions.
The more you practice the compositions, the more they will become second nature.