Tips for Improving Composition in Photography

Have you seen a photograph that made you literally want to step through the frame and enter that world? Or have you seen a photograph that instantly made your mouth water and your stomach give a little twitch of hunger? Composition in photography is creating a story or capturing a moment that comes to life through the photograph. Professional photographers spend hours in the classroom learning the techniques for composition in photography and even more hours learning and fine-tuning this skill.

composition tips for photos

Photo by Tom Gill; ISO 100, f/6.3, 1/640-second exposure.

Select the Focal Point of Your Photo

You will be amazed at how many truly great photos are ruined because there is not a focal point of the photo. Basically, the focal point of a photo is the first thing that catches a viewer’s attention when they initially see the picture. Some people also refer to the focal point as the subject of the photo. Without a focal point, nothing in the picture is going to matter.

Rule of Thirds

While the rule of thirds does not have to be followed, it does help the beginner and those fine-tuning their composition in photography. When you select your focal point, imagine that the picture is divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Basically, divide the picture into nine equal squares.

It is important to avoid putting your focal point in the center square. Ideally, place your focal point along one of the imaginary lines beside the center square.

Foreground vs Background

All photos have a foreground and background. Neither of these should over-take the photograph, but the subject or focal point should be the target of the picture. Make certain that the elements in both the foreground and background compliment the focal point instead of distracting the viewer from the focal point.

how to use the rule of thirds

Photo by Manu Gómez; ISO 100, f/8.0, 3.2-second exposure.


When you select a focal point, the next step is to select the colors that will go in the picture. Ideally, you want colors that complement or colors that strikingly contrast one another. It is best to avoid using both, because this can be too distracting and take the attention away from the focal point. Expert photographers can pull this off but not typically beginners.

Lining Up Your Focal Point

The human eye naturally follows lines. Ideally, you want to line up all of the objects in your photo. For example, you can place your focal point in the bottom left corner of your imaginary thirds grid. Your background objects would then be in the center square and the top right square forming a natural diagonal line for the human eye to follow.


You might have learned from others to place your focal point in the center square and take the photo looking straight at the subject. While this can result in some rather dramatic pictures for a professional, using this technique is extremely challenging and difficult for beginners.

Step slightly to the left or right of your focal point. You can zoom in on objects to get a closer view or out to get a broader few. Use your angle to naturally crop your pictures by getting rid of distracting objects in the foreground or background.


Lighting is extremely tricky for novice photographers. Ideally, place your camera on the lightest point of your subject. This will automatically focus the remainder of the picture with the higher light setting. You can also use lenses, lighting and shutter speeds to achieve the best lighting for your focal point. Experiment and take several shots to determine which exposure setting works best.

Posing People

People rely heavily on the photographer to pose them for their photograph. Different types of people photographs require different poses. For example, a photograph of a family for a family portrait would have a more formal pose than a picture taken at a family cook-out. Make certain that the expression on the person’s face matches the tone and purpose of the photo.

poses for stunning photos and composition

Photo by Helga Weber; f/2.4, 1/40-second exposure.

Use objects to enhance the photograph and frame the person instead of becoming the focal point. For example, do not have the clothing for a glamor shoot take over the focal point of the picture, but rather have it complement the person.

Take Notes

With every picture that you take, write down the lens, lighting, time of day, and other information. Number the pictures and use your notes to review how the photos looked when completed. Using your notes will help you achieve repeated beautiful pictures, because you will fine-tune your skills for composition in photography and learn from the notes.

Following these few simple tips for photography will dramatically improve your skills in composition. You can utilize photography software but should rely on your techniques of composition in photography for the best pictures.

About the Author:
J. Priddy writes on a variety of topics and is available for hire for short article pieces, essays, web content, blog content and eBooks.

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