This is post number four in a series of posts filed under Happy Snapper. Where I try to explain the basics of photography on a phone, point and shoot or DSLR in language that makes sense and hopefully helps you.

Posts in the series so far:
#1 What camera? An introduction to the types of camera available these days.
#2 Need some focus? The how and why of autofocus.
#3 Explaining camera modes. 

You can have the crappiest camera in the entire world and create a stunning image if your composition is bang on. Conversely, you can have the best of the best gear on the market and not get a single ‘good’ shot if you don’t know how to compose an image. It’s imperative, vital, the most basic of the basics. It’s innate for some but can be learned, as long as you keep some rules in mind and make sure to experiment and practice.

Centre composition

When we look at something with our eyes we centre what we’re looking at. It’s important so it’s not in the periphery. This is first type of composition that most of us use, it’s natural and it’s the obvious choice. But centre composition is hard to get right. As one writer puts it, it’s like roasting a chicken – easy to do but hard to do right.

Castlepalooza 2013-25

Wes Anderson is the undisputed king of centre composition, check out this lovely little montage for some great reference material:

So next time you’re composing a shot with your point of interest in the centre, ask yourself if Wes Anderson would be proud.

Rule of Thirds

When we start to learn about composition this is where we start to fly from. The rule of thirds is so beautifully simple and flexible that it works in almost every situation.

This rule works by imagining a grid over your image, two vertical and two horizontal lines intersect to give us 9 segments in the image. These lines and the points where these lines cross is where we want our important information to be. So you have 8 possible ways of using this grid.

Basically, you could try imagining that the centre square of the grid as a ‘no fly zone’, align your image so that the main information is most definitely¬†not in that centre square.

The girls eyes are directly on the intersection of the left and bottom lines.

Castlepalooza 2013-5

Notice the horizon line, boat and sun.


Movement in the frame

When there’s movement in your frame, be sure to let that into the image. Leave room for whatever it is to keep moving in the viewer’s imagination. Keep your subject looking into the frame. If you imagine a photo of someone staring at a blank wall, how interesting do you think that would be? So leave some room for your subject, leave them something to look at. This means that if the subject is looking to the left then frame them on the right side of the image and visa versa.

In this shot the singer is interacting with the crowd and while you can’t really distinguish them, you can still feel the energy moving between the crowd and the stage. There’s room left in the photo for that.

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Change your angle

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, get down low or move up higher. Changing your angle¬†zaps you away from¬†visual fatigue and forces you to really assess your composition. Try it and see where it takes you.


Remember, rules are made to be broken. Learn the rules, then learn to exploit and break them.

Let me know how it works for you.