4 Common Composition Mistakes Photographers Should Avoid

No one is born a photographic genius. Even masters of the medium have to go through a great deal of trial and error to develop a unique sense of style. As a seasoned professional, Evan Ranft is all too familiar with the mistakes that often plague beginners. Luckily, he’s got a few sage pieces of advice on how to go about turning those mishaps into something great:

The Dreaded Double Subject

What exactly is a double subject? Put simply, it’s a composition that contains interesting elements that compete rather than complement one another. Having a model stand right next to an eye-catching object, for instance, can leave viewers confused regarding where to look.

composition mistakes

Competing Subjects

What to Do Instead

If you look back on your images and find that you have some double subjecting happening, there’s an easy solution that allows all of the major compositional elements to stay intact. Simply move your elements (or yourself) so that the competing subjects lie on different focal planes. Doing so makes for a better visual flow and makes it clear what you want your audience to focus on.

Looking Outside the Frame

Believe it or not, having a subject look at the world “outside” of an images frame can make for a lot of unintended issues. Often times, it disconnects models from the rest of the scene that surrounds them. Consequently, the separation between model and environment creates double subjects.

fix composition mistakes

Looking Out of the Frame

What to Do Instead

Simply having a model face inward can make a world of difference. Even the smallest amount of interaction between subject and scene can result in an end composition that’s infinitely more balanced and pleasing to the eye.

Troublesome Tangent lines

Lines play a huge role in composition. They can either guide or divide, and it’s of the utmost importance to understand the role natural lines play within your images. Though tangent lines generated by a series of trees or overlapping telephone wires may seem benign, they can severely weaken an image if they’re not composed in a logical way.

bad composition

Watch Your Lines

What to Do Instead

If the lines in your shot are causing trouble, recompose. Try to incorporate lines that lead the eye to a key point within the photograph. Alternatively, lines can be used to emphasize action already taking place within the composition. Rather than combating the issue, try to manipulate the surroundings you’re provided with to fit your own personal needs.


Being lazy can be a huge detriment to the quality of a photographer’s work. There’s a tendency to take photographs at eye level, simply because that’s how we see our surroundings. Sticking to lazy compositions will get the job done, but it doesn’t always produce an amazing image.

how to compose a photo

Lazy Composition

What to Do Instead

Instead of sticking to the easiest solution, experiment with squatting down, getting a higher vantage point, or utilizing unusual angles to get more compelling images. Changing your perspective only takes a matter of seconds, but the end results are well worth the effort.

What other common composition mistakes would you add to this list?

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One response to “4 Common Composition Mistakes Photographers Should Avoid”

  1. John Greaser says:

    Excellent info. I’m in the beginning phase of learning the finer art of large format photography. Composition is one of my primary goals to gain a keener knowledge about.

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