8 Top Tips to Compose a Stunning Photo

A good camera can only do so much to produce quality photographs. The photographer, who interprets a scene with a fresh eye and unique perspective, plays a large role in creating a stunning shot.

Much of the best photography is about being in the right place at the right time. But there are certain things you should know to make sure you’re maximising your opportunities to snap the best photos you can.

A potential photograph can look dramatically different depending on where you as photographer choose to stand, where you point the camera, what you focus on, and when you press the shutter button.

You could have an incredible scene before you, but without a bit of photography know-how it’s possible to produce an incredibly dull picture. And if you follow these tips below, you could snap the most stunning image
from a wholly uninspiring real-life scene.

So here are some of the top tips in the photography biz to help you produce the best photos you (and your camera) are capable of!

1. Simplify
Composition - Simplify

Rule number one with any photograph composition is simplicity. The less cluttered your picture, the more impacting it can be. Choose a subject of interest in your scene and make it the centre of attention (read the hints below to find out how you can do this).

An easy way to simplify a picture is to fill the frame. Don’t leave any empty space. You can do this either by zooming in on or moving closer to your subject to eliminate distractions. If you can’t get closer, try to blur the background. With a digital SLR or compact system camera, you can do this by using a wider aperture to make the subject stand out. With a common compact digital camera, select the portrait mode.

2. Frame the Photo
Lisa Frost

There’s a reason why we like to put our best pictures in frames before we hang them on our walls. A frame draws the viewer’s attention into the picture. It highlights the details and rounds the edges of the picture

The same idea applies to natural frames as well; if you can compose your photograph with a natural frame such as with trees or archways, it can help draw your main subject out of its surrounding environment.

3. Shoot Off-Centre
Ricky Gestro

Often when you place your point of interest in the centre of the photo, it creates a dull, lifeless image. But by simply putting the object to the side of the image can create a dynamic shot.

When starting out in photography, you may want to practice the Rule of Thirds. Imagine your scene split into thirds, with three equal horizontal and vertical sections (many cameras now come with a function that will show these lines on your screen or viewfinder). Then place the most important elements of your scene along one of these lines, or where the lines converge. It gives the viewer’s eye a chance to roam the photograph and lends the image more balance.

4. Leave space for moving
Tizia May

Humans don’t like to feel hemmed in, but if you take a picture with no room for movement, you’re pandering to their claustrophobia. If you chose to capture movement, whether it’s a hiker, a cyclist or a racing car, make sure you leave plenty of space in the subject’s direction of travel.

For example if you have a racing car, position it to the side of your composition and highlight the space ahead that the car will soon be entering. After all, that’s where the action is going. It gives viewers a chance to imagine the rest of the movement.

The same applies for portrait shots. More often than not, it works to place the subject on the side of the frame and leave space where he or she is looking. Cutting off that space can often make your viewers feel unsettled and your photograph look cramped.

5. Use leading lines
Jong Kim

People like to be guided. A directionless photograph can be disorientating or just dull. But if you place strategic leading lines through your picture, you can guide your viewers’ eyes to the point of interest.

It may be that you want to highlight a quaint cottage. If you begin further away (or from a height) and accentuate the winding road that leads to the cottage, the eye follows the natural contours to your subject.

You can using converging lines if you want a sense of perspective or depth. Curved lines, like the natural C shape of a beach cove, gives your viewer a journey around the frame of your photograph to the main subject.

6. Use diagonal line
Bronwyn Keller
Horizontal lines effect a static, calm image. Vertical lines suggest permanence and stability. Diagonal lines, on the other hand, evoke drama, movement, and uncertainty. They can spice up an otherwise lifeless subject matter and can create a new, unique perspective on a commonly-photographed subject.

To use diagonal lines effectively, simply compose your photo so that lines (such as the edges of buildings, a tree line, or the white stripes on a road) run from the upper left corner of the frame to the lower right corner. It may help to use a low viewpoint or tilt the camera up.

7. Convey depth
Gail King

Alongside converging lines, another way to convey depth is to make sure that your photograph is well layered. A spectacular landscape, for example, can look flat and one-dimensional on screen. Unless, that is, you introduce subjects into the foreground, middle ground and background.

If you position a boulder or a person in the foreground, you bring a sense of scale into your images. People will better process the height of a mountain or the breadth of a vista.

8. Break the rules
Lizette Sturzaker

The best thing about learning the rules is knowing when to break them. Sometimes, doing something people least expect can create an incredibly impacting photograph. Whether you choose to place a horizon of subject of interest in the very centre of the frame (as with the image above) or clip short the space into which a portrait subject’s eyes gaze, sometimes it pays off to ignore the rules and go with your gut instincts.

But the only way you’re going to know when or how to break the rules is to go out there and practice them all in the first place. Take your time to compose each shot. With time, you’ll find yourself focusing less and less on the rules and composing effective photos will become second nature. Then one day, you may just capture the perfect shot that complies with none of the tips above. Good luck!

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