Learning to take better photographs can be a satisfying but frustrating experience. Whether you’re using phones, tablets, compact digital cameras, or large DSLRs, you can improve your photographs with some basic rules of composition. On holidays or at family gatherings, capturing special moments or memorable views will be more rewarding with the help of these simple techniques.
The Rule of Thirds
When composing pictures it helps to imagine the scene divided into three, both vertically and horizontally. Place the important elements in your picture on those imaginary lines or at their intersections. Many cameras can show these lines on the viewfinder or the screen. Placing everything in the centre can be static and even boring. The rule of thirds gives pictures a sense of motion.
Space to Move
Don’t make the people you’re photographing look as if they’re about to bump into the frame of your picture. If someone is walking or running, allow some space for movement ahead of them. Often seen in sports photography, this technique applies more generally and saves pictures from feeling cramped. You can also move the camera itself to track the movement of your subject across the frame. This works well with fast-moving subjects like cars, giving you a sharply focused subject set against a motion-blurred background and capturing a sense of energy and speed.
Balance and Lines
Symmetry gives your compositions a nice sense of balance. Patterns and lines can also be used to lead the viewer’s gaze across an image. Consider whether vertical or horizontal framing suits your image. When looking for balance and pattern, consider not just objects themselves but also their brightness, colour, and shape.
Zoom With Your Feet
These techniques can help you to isolate and emphasise what is important in your photograph. Rather than simply relying on a zoom lens, move around to find the right angle and don’t be afraid to get closer to your subject.
Conversely, it can sometimes be good to get a little distance from your subject and let the zoom lens close the gap. This is particularly true for portraits, where a little distance and zoom can give more flattering results than the slight fisheye distortion of an image taken close-up with a wider lens. When you move around, you will discover that objects that might be distracting from one angle can instead be used to frame a scene. Try to raise or lower the camera to find different perspectives. When photographing children or pets, get down to their level.
Backgrounds and Edges
When taking a photograph, don’t just look at the main point of interest in your picture. Check the edges of the viewfinder or screen for any distractions entering the frame. Messy backgrounds are very distracting, and many portraits have been ruined by a composition that makes the subject appear to have a tree or lamppost growing out of their head. With digital photography, you can view pictures immediately and check for these mistakes.
You can quickly improve the quality of your photos by thinking not just about the subject but also about the layout of the whole picture. Consider where the subject is in the frame and how it relates to what is around it. Lines, colours, shadows and shapes can all help to give an image balance or dynamism. You should also think about movement, both your own as you compose the picture and the sense of movement within the image itself. Finally, remember that while these rules are useful, you shouldn’t be afraid to break them for a good picture.