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Improve the composition of your photos

Compact camera tips

One of the beautiful things about photography is the scope for creative freedom and emotional expression it offers. So it may seem slightly constrictive to discuss the rules of composition – particularly when you’re enjoying your summer holiday. But knowing some simple composition rules can help make your images more pleasing to the eye. Here we discuss how composition can help you order the way things are arranged in your images - and how using the rules can help you control them.

• Create layers of interest
• Frame subjects in different positions
• Try a different perspective
• Frame the scene naturally
• Spirals
• Triangles

Enys Dodnan, Armed Knight and Longships - Shirolazan

Create layers of interest

Compact cameras are great for scenic shots as they can capture details close to the camera and far in to the distance, in sharp focus.

Capitalise on this by composing a scene to have three relevant subjects: one in the foreground, one in the middle and one in the background. The three objects will create a visual lead through the picture.

Try framing your subjects in different positions

Cameras typically have a marker or AF frame at the centre of the picture, but composing your subjects right in the middle only works effectively for some pictures.

For simple subjects like a brightly coloured flower in a sea of dark green leaves, a central composition works well. The central part of a photo needs to be strong enough to hold the viewers’ attention, so a portrait where just the face is lit, and the background is much darker works well too.

Vein of light- Jeroen Bennink
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Try a different perspective

All too often photographs are taken at a person’s eye-level. Yet more creative viewpoints are available by positioning your camera either lower or higher.

When children take pictures, the results show adults a different view of the world; buildings, trees, plants and adults look much larger from a lower camera position.

If your camera has a Vari-angle LCD display or can connect to your smartphone with Wi-Fi you can put your camera on the floor to frame your shots. Similarly, the higher viewpoint from the top of buildings, or with the camera held above your head works well too.

Frame the scene naturally

Try composing your image with a natural frame. When you take a photo, consider how the edges of the picture frame your main subject. Using a doorway, or window to frame the scene are a good choice, as the darker edge helps to focus attention to the lighter elements elsewhere in the frame. You could use the doorway of the hotel, or apartment to frame the view of the city as an example. It’s best if the window or door is open to avoid reflections on the glass.

Snagging barrels - Chris Kuga

Advanced rule of thirds: spirals

A compositional technique known as the Golden Ratio (sometimes known as a Fibonacci Spiral) is a natural compositional approach that creates strong, powerful photos. Around 1200 AD, Italian mathematician, Fibonacci first noticed that there was a ratio that commonly appears throughout nature which is pleasing to the human eye. It’s often simplified as the rule of thirds, but a true ratio is 1 to 0.618 to 1.

The idea is that you can make a composition stronger if you can compose the frame so that it includes a line that guides the viewer along a spiral path to the main subject. The theory can work across lots of different images – from landscapes to portraits and more.


Composing your scene with triangles in mind can improve your photos. Try shooting the lines of the street disappearing in to the distance, and the resulting triangular sections in the side of the frame. Even with a portrait of a person at a table, try asking the subject to move their arms to create a triangular shape, the elbows wider spread, and the hands supporting the chin. The composition will look much more aesthetically pleasing.

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