Photo tip of the week: 10 tips to improve creative composition
Seeking to photograph the world with your own unique style is what we all strive for as photographers. To showcase a landscape, iconic site or even a simple portrait with a refreshing angle is something that sounds so easy, yet can be quite difficult to achieve without a little imagination and out of the box thinking.
Composition is where you can use your creativity to enhance your images and make considered adjustments to capture new perspectives.
The art of composing an image in my opinion comes back to how you see the world. Training your photographic eye is one of the most important elements of learning photography, a never ending journey you’ll no doubt find changes as your style and ideas progress over time.
Below are ten tips to shake things up a little in order to get more creative with your composition…
#1 Leading Lines
Leading lines can be found in any scene, it’s just a matter of keeping your eyes peeled to scout the best angle to highlight them. Common lines include roads, pavements, edges of buildings or coastlines but can also be found in light rays or sand patterns, basically anything and everything that points toward your desired subject.
Using lines to show someone where to look in your images is a great technique to draw their attention. Your eyes will naturally follow a path so having this composed within your image, immediately helps the viewer know what it is that you’re wanting to showcase.
If you’re photographing a winding country lane as it weaves through the landscape, use this to create a path for the viewer to follow with their eyes. Having lines lead from the corners of your image is also another great way to add direction, fences and rivers can be ideal subjects to use in this case.
Composing a photograph using reflections is one of my favourite ways to get creative. By reflecting a scene you’re not only doubling the beauty but you can play around with just how much or how little is reflected. Opting to only reflect part of the subject or even just the sky or singular details can really turn your image into something special.
Keep an eye out for reflections in mirrors, lakes, tables or basically anything that shines. Using a reflective surface to create an alternate view is a great way to creatively compose your travel images.
Places that have been photographed a billion times like the Eiffel Tower for example, can be captured with a unique angle by using puddles or forming your own reflective pool on bench tops or bridge railings. You can even use the reflections to capture a street scene or landscape, it’s just about being aware of the possibilities and looking for them.
I always find that small pools of water created over a rougher reflective surface helps to add depth and a creative edge to the reflection, making it look less mirrored and more natural.
#3 Unique Angles
By changing your environment you’ll no doubt open your mind to creative angles. A few years ago I started a project aimed at photographing the world’s coastlines and villages from the water; a series of split-level shots that used water as an element of composition.
This wasn’t only a professional project, but a personal kick to get more creative and to attempt something a little unique using the existing environment.
A good way to force some creativity is to give yourself the challenge of being in an environment and finding a minimum of 10 perspectives to photograph. Not just clicking left, right, up and down but really looking at the scene and taking the time to find the details that lie within. Doing this helps to develop your photographic eye and really see a scene rather than simply snap it.
#4 Foreground focus
Instead of pointing the camera straight ahead, look around to see if there is anything you can use to focus on to create an alternate view. Is there a row of blooming flowers, a narrow alley that leads towards your subject or perhaps people in bicycles zooming past that you can incorporate into the foreground of your image.
By composing your shot with additional elements in the foreground, it helps to create not only a more interesting image but a sense of place.
If you’re looking to block out unwanted clutter in the foreground, whether it’s a tour group or unsightly rubbish bins, you can use a foreground item to add a pop of colour to your shot. By holding an item really close to your lens while shooting at a wide aperture, you’ll produce a pop of colour that can be moved around until you find the ideal composition. Flowers work really well for this, as do leaves because you can use their edges to cover up whatever it is you’re looking to cover up.
Alternatively, if you are photographing an easily identifiable subject, you can blur it out and solely focus on an item in the foreground!
#5 Rule of Thirds
Creative composition can go a long way towards enhancing your image almost immediately. The rule of thirds is a great way to help you think about where to place your subject rather than just pointing and shooting straight ahead.
You can use this method of composition in any type of photography whether it’s capturing a building, person or landscape, it’s just about thinking outside the box and changing the focal point of the image.
Ideally the rule is to have your subject touching two intersections of the grid however I’m not a huge fan of following rules so tend to use the rule of thirds more as a reminder than anything. With social media and in particular Instagram, I’ve found that composing your subject to sit in the bottom third of an image is more visually appealing to most people than those that are top heavy or completely centred.
Photographing your subject with a new perspective can easily be achieved by framing it with something unique. Whether its tree branches, shadows, a window, arches or something else entirely, framing your image is a great way to let the viewer see your vision.
Think of a standard picture frame then aim to recreate it using available items natural to the scene you’re capturing. If you are in a city, use buildings, street lamps, cars or holes in a concrete wall to frame your shot and give it a little grit.
Out in nature you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to framing a landscape image. Climb into bushes and test out vantage points or look for leaves and branches that have fallen on the ground to hold up against your lens and create a frame that borders your subject. It can frame a shot on all sides or just one, that’s where it’s up to you to decide what works best for the result you’re hoping to achieve.
#7 Textures and Patterns
Composing your image using textures and patterns within a scene adds an element to your image that few may photograph.Look a little closer to photograph the textures within an image whether it’s a rough surface on a stone pavement, remnants of tidal waters retreating across sand or even just blades of grass to use in the foreground of a shot.
Destinations like Morocco or Turkey are great for this as there are always so many inspiring patterns or carvings to use in your photographs. Think colourful tiles, cracked wooden doors painted in vibrant colours or ochre red walls.
Within a landscape you can use natural textures as the subjects themselves, as foreground elements or as mentioned above as leading lines to steer the viewer’s eye.
#8 Look Up
One angle most people rarely see is directly upward, because let’s face it, it’s not the most comfortable! Looking up reveals a whole new world of possibilities and angles that are just waiting to be photographed, it’s just a matter of tilting your camera and seeing what’s up there.
Rainforest canopies work wonders when composing upward shots with the trees closing in from all sides of the image. Alternatively city buildings will also create this effect, it’s just about finding the right location where skyscrapers are closer together with a minimal gap between them at the top.
Just a little note, upward images aren’t super flattering when it comes to portrait photography, best keep this composition trick for landscapes!
#9 Negative Space
Referring to the space around the subject your photographing, negative space can be a key element of artistic composition. Without anything to distract from what you’re photographing means all eyes will be drawn to the subject.
You can use a bright blue sky, water, a warm sunset sky or just white space. Anything that’s simple in comparison to the subject will work to highlight your focus and produce the effect of negative space.
Some photographers use this technique across their entire portfolio and become masters at seeing the world using negative space. I always find it so impressive when people can take a scene, find a small detail then turn it into something magnificent and museum-like.
#10 Composing with Movement
Creating intentional blur and motion within an image is a great way to showcase a scene. Whether its waves, water, traffic or people running, having a subject move through your image creates a sense of place and adds interest.
Natural elements are great subjects to use for movement, one of the best is the ocean. Crashing waves and water moving in multiple directions allows for so many potential results and creative composition possibilities.
When waves roll into the shore the back is rushing forward while beneath the wave the water is sucking in an upward motion. This produces the perfect chance to capture evident movement in an image that’s already working with you to create a whimsical pattern.
One little thing to note is to also ensure your moving subject has somewhere to go within your image. You don’t want the subject to close to the edge of the frame or it will appear it’s got nowhere to continue its journey. Let viewers imagine it moving through your image, rather than off the edge of the photo.
While there are a number of accessories such as filters and drones out there, it can be the simplest things that enable you to completely transform a scene with your camera.
Photography has become such a huge part of travelling so why not learn to capture a destination with your own unique perspective? Have fun testing out the techniques above!