How I Compose Pictures

This could probably be an entire book, and should you want more detail, I am sure you can find excellent books to help you to compose better pictures. However, I will give you the main things that I do so you can start to use those suggestions if you like.

I have been taking pictures for much of my life and come from a family of artists and photographers. Art has always had a huge place in my life – both creating and enjoying other’s creations. As an adult, I look at my photography as an art form, so when I make pictures, I use some of the same rules to create them that artists use when they paint.

  1. Have a subject and make your subject obvious. A jumbled mass of stuff might look interesting to the naked eye, but just winds up being confusing to your viewer. Your pictures will be much more understandable with a subject that stands out.
  2. Pay attention to light. Light creates color and contrast and helps your pictures to come alive. A lack of light can make your subjects appear quite flat. Artists use a tool for composition where they will make a very rough pencil sketch of a painting showing where the values will be darker and lighter. This is the same sort of thing you can do in your head when you want to take a picture.
  3. Use the rule of thirds. If you don’t know what the rule of thirds is, think of breaking up your frame with a tic-tack-toe board. Many cameras show this in their viewfinders. You use the rule by placing your subject on one of the lines, either vertical or horizontal — or indeed, you can place your subject where the lines intersect. If you are creating a landscape, using this rule means that you place the horizon line on either the top third line or the bottom third line, rather than in the middle of your frame.
  4. There’s a rule in flower arranging that says to use an odd number of flowers rather than an even number in an arrangement. This is also useful for pictures. If you can’t help but use an even number, like in a family portrait with 4 members, try to make sure that they aren’t arranged all in a row, rather, have them be at different heights and in different positions.
  5. When I use my macro lens, I love to use a very narrow depth of field so that my subject (and maybe not even all of my subject) is the only thing that’s in focus. With my 40mm lens, I can get very close to the subject so it can pick up details in even the tiniest things. Because I prefer more detailed pictures, this works very well for me.
  6. While this doesn’t always apply, in general, I like to look for contrasts. They tend to catch my eye, like a white flower against a shadowy background or a purple flower against a green background. The eye is drawn to lighter colors, so when you edit, it’s a good idea to use a feature like vignette in Instagram to make the backgrounds fade to dark a little bit. This will help your subject to stand out.
  7. And last, but not least, please pay attention to the background of your pictures. You may see a fabulous flower and want to take a picture of it. Please notice what’s behind it – you can move the angle of your camera or yourself to get exactly the story you want to tell. Take a moment to move yourself and the camera. It will be well worth it. This applies to those infamous bathroom or messy bedroom selfies. I don’t care how gorgeous you are; having a potty stall or a ton of dirty clothes in a picture behind you takes away from the attractiveness of the subject.

I hope this little tutorial gives you something to consider as you make your own beautiful works of art and tell your own stories with your camera. If you have additional advice, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to comment below and if you’re interested in seeing more of my work, find me on Instagram at Catmellott.


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