A learn by doing photo project.

Improve your photography with these 19 composition techniques

Would you like to join our free Composition Online Workshop Jan. 2021? Join our newsletter and learn how to stop taking photos and start making photos.

Subscribe Now

During a photoshoot I always approach the subject in as many ways as possible because it creates more dynamic results which increases the chance of getting “the one”.

Building a library of ways to approach your subject is the fastest and easiest way to immediately take better photos.  This is why we created Composition 19.  A photo project aimed at helping you build a library of ways to approach a shot.  

Invite others to join this challenge. This is the fastest way to take better photos and can also be done with your smartphone.

The purpose of composition techniques is to help draw more attention to your subject so first of all know what your subject is. What interests you in your available surrounding? For example, you can start with yourself, use a remote or timer…. I took this photo on my roof with a remote back when I lived in NYC.  A timer does just as well…

What makes a good photo?

  • Know your subject (what interests you in the scene?)
  • Draw attention to your subject (creating a focal point)

Composition techniques… Why?

  • Enhance the focal point
  • Create a library of ways to approach a subject

Take a photo using several of the techniques. You can refer to the moodboard as a reminder. This will immediately create better and more diverse images. And over time this practice

Sign up for our newsletter to get our Composition & Technique cheat sheet.

Please note some of these techniques are called rules but they are still techniques or you can think of them as suggestions.

#1 Juxtaposition

Pick your subject first, then pair it with something that will make the viewer consider the connection between these two things they can contrast each other or compliment.

Juxtaposition refers to the inclusion of two or more elements in a scene that can either contrast with each other or compliment each other. Both approaches can work very well and play an important part in enabling the photo to tell a story.

This is why I love shooting on location rather then in a studio because there are so many options for juxtaposition that helps with storytelling. The subject and the location are two great elements to work with when using juxaposition.

#2 Rule of Space

The rule of space relates to the direction the subject(s) in your photo are facing or moving towards. If you are taking a photo of a person for example, there should be more space left in the frame in front of the person than behind it. This implies that there is space in the frame for the person to move into.

#3 Color Combinations

Look for Particular Color Combinations. Color evokes emotion and can also help us draw attention to our subject.

The use of color itself is an often overlooked compositional tool. Color theory is something that designers always work with. Certain color combinations compliment each other and can be visually very striking. 

For example, if the color of clothing your subject is wearing contrasts the rest of the image it will help draw attention to the subject.  If your subject is wearing red in a forest, it will stand out.

#4 Depth of Field

Enhance the focal point by using depth of field: DOF

Using a shallow depth of field to isolate your subject is a very effective way of simplifying your composition. By using a wide aperture, you can blur the background or foreground that might otherwise distract from your main subject. This is a particularly useful technique for shooting portraits. If you are using a smartphone some like the newer iPhone have portrait mode to do this or else you just have to get very close with a small subject to achieve a blurry background with a smartphone.

#5 Rule of Odds

The rule of odds is also sometimes referred to as “think in threes”. It suggests that using an odd number of subjects can sometimes make it easier to create a focal point when working with multiple subjects.

The theory proposes that an even number of elements in a scene is distracting as the viewer is not sure which one to focus his or her attention on. An odd number of elements therefore making it easier for the subjects to stand out. 

The “rule of odds” suggests that an odd number of subjects in an image is easier on the eyes than an even number. (As people tend to pair up even numbers, odd numbers don’t pair so more easily stand out as individual subjects. So, if you have more than one subject in your picture, the suggestion is to choose an arrangement with at least three subjects or another odd number.

#6 Patterns and Textures

Human beings are naturally attracted to patterns. They are visually attractive and suggest harmony. Patterns can be man-made patterns in architecture or natural like tree trunks. Less regular textures can also be very pleasing to the eye.

You can use a pattern or texture in the background to help your subject stand out or have an interesting texture or pattern on your subject to help draw attention to it.

#7 Frame within a frame 

Frame within a frame uses something within the scene to frame the main subject. Framing the subject can add content to help tell the story of the image as well as clarifying the focal point.

#8 Negative Space

Removing distractions is always important when taking a photo. Sometimes photographers have an instinct to avoid empty spaces but using negative space within the composition can help the subject stand out. 

#9 Rule of Thirds 

This is a classic artist rule that divides the composition into a grid. The rule states that the composition becomes more interesting when the subject or focal point of the image is placed on one of these intersections instead of placing in the center. 

For Portraits, try placing your subjects at one of these intersection points. 

For Landscapes and Cityscapes, try placing your horizon line to match the top or bottom line. 

For Buildings, place the building to over one of either the left or right line instead of the center. 

#10 Birds Eye View

Get above your subject, to show it from a perspective the viewer isn’t accustomed to seeing it in everyday life.  Showing your subject from this unique perspective helps it stand out.

#11 Frogs Eye View 

Get below your subject and show a perspective of an object from as low as possible, as though the observer were a frog; the opposite of a bird’s-eye view. It can be used to look up to something to make an object look larger or more powerful.

#12 Leading Lines

Leading lines uses visual lines in the image to focus or “point” the viewer eye towards the subject. Leading lines can also be used to pave a path for the eye to follow through the photo.  This path will, of course, end with your subject. Using leading lines is also an excellent way of creating depth.

#13 Symmetrical Balance

Symmetrical balance is when the visual weight is distributed evenly, either vertically or horizontally. You can draw a line straight through the middle of the image, and the visual balance would be equal on both sides of the line. A symmetrical composition appears to be stable, and creates a more orderly look.

#14 Asymmetrical Balance

In asymmetrical balance, the visual elements on either side of the image don’t match yet feel balanced. 

Asymmetrical designs can give sense of movement and seem more modern than symmetrical designs. The elements need to be balanced in a way that helps the subject(s) stand out.

#15 Partially Obscured Subject

Obscure part of the object to create some mystery. Cover parts of the subject’s face with a hand, clothing, or have the crop block part of the subject to leave a little to the imagination and to focus on the part of the image that isn’t covered (the subject and focal point of the image). 

#16 Reflection

Look for reflections. You can use reflections to help draw attention to your subject either by incorporating a reflection of your subject within the image or by using the reflection within the subject to help draw attention to your subject.

#17 Close-up

Get closer aka “fill the frame” and show your subject bigger.

In photography terms, the frame refers to the edges of the photograph or your camera’s viewfinder, so filling the frame means to make the subject(s) a significant part of your final photograph. Getting closer, and showing your subject larger is an simple and often overlooked way to make your focal point stand out.

#18 Interesting Foreground

The foreground gives the rest of the images a sense of perspective and scale.  Without the tire (below) this wouldn’t be interesting.  

Most landscape shots have a foreground, middle-ground and background. The foreground is the most important and most forgotten of the three. Choosing an interesting foreground gives the eye an entry point into the image as well as adding dimension and scale to your image. 

#19 Simplicity 

Great photos are often simple. Think about what interests you and try to isolate it from surrounding distraction. A simple and direct a picture creates a strong statement. 

Move things out of the image that can be distracting from you subject like that random soda bottle.

Practice these techniques, share your results- #composition19 on instagram

Stay safe friends!