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How to Compose a Photo for Best Effect

by Fiona (follow)
Tutorials (6)      Composition (1)     
Composition is perhaps THE key consideration for achieving a quality photo. This is an outline of some of the main points to consider in composing your photos. Each of these is a complex area that probably justifies an article in its own right.

The point to remember though is that not all of these principles apply to every situation. They are prompts to consider. Even if you take a few minutes to stop and think about what you want out of your shot, it will improve the quality of your photography. But of course, you don’t always get that luxury; if you see a great shot, grab the camera and snap it! And then, if you have the opportunity, think about what you can do to improve the next shot.

Also, start to look around you for potential shots. Look beyond the superficial. If everyone’s taking a shot of the sunset, turn around and see what’s behind you instead! It’s amazing how one can develop a photographic ‘eye’ with a bit of practice.

Pattern and Symmetry

Repetition can make a great photo. Look for things that repeat, whether natural or man-made – windows or stairs or trees, for example. They can provide a strong point of focus in your photo.

A line of bicycles creates a pattern


Including texture in your shot can make a two-dimensional subject look three-dimensional. Light is important here.

This is a close up shot of a tree trunk, highlighting the textured surface.

Depth of Field

What’s the point of focus here? Select a depth of field that accentuates your main topic, and makes the background not in focus. Or, if you want to draw the eye into the picture, you will need to have objects in the foreground, middle and background of the shot. If you are keen to progress your photography and have a camera with manual settings, do some reading about F-stops, and what stop is appropriate for which situation.

Leading Lines

Leading lines draw the eye to the focal point in the image and/or draw the eye into the image. They can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal.

Leading lines
An example of leading lines. (Image credit: "London Cityscape" by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee, from www.freedigitalphotos.net)

Rule of Thirds

Place an imaginary grid over the scene in front of you – divide it into nine squares by placing 2 vertical lines (one-third and two- thirds of the way across from the left), and two horizontal lines (one-third and two-thirds of the way up from the horizon – like a noughts and crosses grid. Photographic convention says that the most important aspect of your photo should either fall along one of these lines, or where the lines intersect. This means the best shot may not necessarily have the subject smack in the middle! But you should experiment and see what works best.

Many cameras (including mobile phone cameras) have a built in function that allows you to display this grid over the photo you’re planning to shoot.

Thinking about this grid also helps with balance in your shot, to make sure you’re not going to end up with too much foreground or sky.


From what height will you get the best shot? It’s not always from eye height as you stand and look at your subject! Think about taking the shot from above, or getting down to ground/water level. What works best?

Shooting from ground level works well here. (Image credit: "Fungi" by arkorn, from www.freedigitalphotos.net)


Use trees or buildings – or whatever’s available – to provide a natural frame for your photo.

See how the shrubs frame the outside of the shot, drawing the eye into the door. (Image credit: "Old Door" by federico stevanin on www.freedigitalphotos.net)

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