{Mentor Mondays} Composition Basics: Do's and Don'ts

The last two weeks we've dived right into composition! Our focus so far has been on finding an interesting story, and learning how to tell it well. This week we step back and cover even more BASIC rules of composition. Easy composition tools you can keep in your rapidly-expanding photographer tool shed! Let's get to it :)

Don’t: Center your Subject… EVERY TIME

It tends to be the default subject-placement within a photo, which makes it rather unremarkable 1000 images later! To add visual interest, try placing your subject(s) according to the “Rule of Thirds.”

Divide your image into three rows, and three columns. The human eye is instinctively drawn to the parts of the image placed where these lines intersect. Give your viewer something interesting to look at by placing important elements of your photo in these areas!

Based on the Rule of Thirds, I've drawn focus to the setting sun AND the happy couple!

Based on the Rule of Thirds, I've drawn focus to the setting sun AND the happy couple!

Do: Play with Symmetry

If you MUST center your subject, this is the way to do it! There’s something very intentional and interesting about finding symmetry in your subject’s environment and incorporating your subject into that pattern. Check it out:

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Do: Frame your Subject

Another effective way of drawing the human eye to your subject is using a technique called “Framing.” Placing your subject within a “natural” (tree canopies, branches, etc) or “architectural” (doors, archways, windows) frames adds significant visual interest.

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Don’t: Ignore your Backdrop

Please please please! If this series teaches you one thing, LET THIS BE IT.  Once you’ve set up your shot, take inventory of what is BEHIND your subject. Are there distractions?? Then MOVE!  Sand Dunes make a prettier backdrop than that stranger’s tan lines. And a tree scape makes a better background than all those cars in the parking lot. It doesn’t take much – a slight shift of your camera angle can spare you from that dog-peeing-on-a-fire-hydrant “photo-bombing” your family memories.

Don’t: Tilt the camera!

Ok, so this is not a universally accepted "rule" in photography. There are plenty of photographers who intentionally compose their photographs contrary to this "rule". Ultimately, you're the artist - it's up to you to decide what makes a photo beautiful.

As for me? I HATE IT! It is my BIGGEST pet peeve in photography. And to be fair, I am totally guilty of it myself. When you first start out in your photography journey, there are so many other things to think about - the lighting, the poses, the timing... - the last thing you're looking at is your horizon. But the resulting “tilt” is SO DISTRACTING.

Maybe it's just me, but when I see the image at the top I think "OH NO! SOMEBODY KEEP THE BABY FROM ROLLING OUT OF THE FRAME!" Sophia is simply DARLING, and capturing the moment here with her parents looking on lovingly at their little peanut took priority over properly composing the shot. BUT!! Once I loaded it into the editing software, I was immediately distracted by the "tilt." 

Maybe it's just me, but when I see the image at the top I think "OH NO! SOMEBODY KEEP THE BABY FROM ROLLING OUT OF THE FRAME!" Sophia is simply DARLING, and capturing the moment here with her parents looking on lovingly at their little peanut took priority over properly composing the shot. BUT!! Once I loaded it into the editing software, I was immediately distracted by the "tilt." 

Don’t: Be a Butcher

I’m guilty of this ALL.THE.TIME. Rush to compose a shot (hey now, we can’t all move at toddler speed!), and suddenly I’ve given my subjects’ hand/fingers/feet/toes “The Chop.” At best, this amputation is distracting. At worst, it ruins your photo’s story. (I can’t tell your kiddo was running after the family dog if you cut off the only limbs suggesting that movement – his feet!)

Remember the dreaded "Tilt"? 90% of my "Limb Chops" occur in the process of fixing it. Check out Dad's hand - or what's left of it! Bummer :( 

Remember the dreaded "Tilt"? 90% of my "Limb Chops" occur in the process of fixing it. Check out Dad's hand - or what's left of it! Bummer :( 

Don’t worry - you’re not limited to only taking full-body photos! All this rule suggests is that we, the photo-takers, be mindful about where we “chop” a limb. To avoid a distracting “chop” – don’t crop your subject at a joint that bends. Instead, a mid-forearm or mid-thigh cut provides the illusion that your subject's limb does, in fact, go on. (Anybody else start singing the Titanic theme?)

That's a wrap!

I hope you've survived this mini-marathon of composition tips. Which are you going to try first?? As always, share your practice shots on my facebook page!