Compositional Keys and Tips in Photography

The bottom line to any great image is composition, and how creative you are with your compositions will determine your ultimate photography success. Have you ever wondered why the great photographers produce such stunning images? Simple. They use keys that are available to all of us. Learn to use these keys regularly, and your images will show dramatic improvements.

the secret to good composition

Photo by Yongchan Cho; ISO 200, f/8.0, 8-second exposure.

Composition was always a struggle to me until I found that by making small tweaks to my images I produced great results. These are available to everyone and if you’ll take the time to implement them, there will be a dramatic improvement in your images. Before you go any further, it’s not necessary to add all these elements to every photo you shoot, just start gradually and work through them.

1. Patterns

Look for patterns and repetitions of patterns. You’ll find them fascinating and so will the viewers of your images. Emphasizing patterns and highlighting them in an image adds a dimension of greater interest. Fill the whole image with the pattern so that it is the main focus of the image. You want the pattern to appear as if it is popping out of the frame. You can also use an element to break the flow of the pattern which then emphasizes the pattern breaker. For example, a tray of brown eggs with one broken one revealing a bright yellow yolk.

what makes good composition

Photo by Jonas Bengtsson; ISO 80, f/4.0, 1/320-second exposure.

2. Texture

Texture makes your images tactile. The viewer feels as if they can touch the image whether it be soft, smooth, rough, or slippery. Texture is accentuated by great light falling on the subject. Side lighting is especially good at accentuating texture. It creates an almost three dimensional effect when viewed with light coming from the right angle.

using lines in photography composition

“converging lines” captured by Asparukh Akanayev

3. Lines

Lines add the most incredible dimension to any image. Lines lead the eye, and if you use them properly, they’ll draw a viewer’s eye to any part of the photo you desire. This is called a focal point. Place an object or subject at one these focal points and a sweeping curved line will bring the eye all the way into the image until reaches the focal point. Use diagonals, verticals, horizontals, and often most effective, converging lines. If they’re used properly, you will always have an interesting photo to share.

4. Color

What more needs to be said? Color is what our world is all about. Vibrant, well saturated colors feed the soul. Our worlds are made up of color and we see, think, and feel in color. So by adding color in the right amounts and in the correct combinations you will add an element of drama to the image.

good composition techniques

Photo by Amanda_Jo_Headrick; ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/60-second exposure.

Rich reds and oranges bring warmth while blues and greys cool down an image. Greens signify growth, wealth, and health while blacks and dark blues bring a more sombre effect to the image. Use colors wisely and they will reward you with outstanding images.

5. Depth of Field

We have all heard of depth of field and sometimes neglect to use it efficiently. A narrow depth of field describes an image in which the background is blurred. When the whole image is in focus, it is said to have a wide depth of field. The ability to control your depth of field will bring an added dimension to your images allowing you to isolate and frame your subjects.

depth of field in photography composition

“Striped Bronzeback Tree Snake1” captured by mattharvey1

By taking just these five compositional keys and adding them where appropriate, your photos will improve quite dramatically. Happy shooting!

About the Author:
Wayne Turner has been teaching photography for 25 years and has written three books on photography. He has produced 21 Steps to Perfect Photos, a program of learner-based training using outcome-based education.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current: