When it comes to creating a compelling photo, there’s a lot that needs to happen.
Naturally, you need good lighting no matter the subject, and speaking of subjects, you need something that’s strong in the frame that draws the viewer’s attention.
You need the right gear for the job, too.
For example, you won’t be getting very good photos of wildlife with your smartphone, as a DSLR or mirrorless camera and a telephoto lens are more apt to help you get those kinds of photos.
But in addition to all those considerations is the manner in which you compose the shot.
In fact, you can have perfect lighting, a strong subject, and use the right gear, but without an interesting composition, the photo might still be a clunker.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of 4 interesting composition ideas that will make your photos more successful.
Frame Within a Frame
Even if you have a strong subject in the shot, it can still benefit from some sort of frame within the frame to further help the viewer lock onto the subject.
In the image above, there’s actually a couple of different frames within the frame.
First, the walls of the ice cave direct our attention to the skier at the entrance of the cave.
And, second, the dark interior of the cave frames the bright opening of the cave in the background.
The result is a really strong composition that has tons of visual impact.
Shift the Subject Down
As noted above, one of the struggles of photography is to create a sense of depth.
Another challenge is to convey a sense of volume of space as we experience it when we’re out shooting.
Though indicating volume is easier with certain types of lenses (i.e. wide-angle), compositionally speaking, one thing you can do to capture volume is to shift the subject to the bottom one-third of the frame.
In the photo above, you can see how the placement of the bicyclist near the bottom of the frame opens up a vast swath of the photo to be dedicated to the sky.
Since the subject is so small in the frame, it helps give us a sense of the space that she’s in. In other words, the shot has a much better representation of the volume of space than if it had been framed tightly on the woman riding the bike.
One of the challenges of photography is trying to capture a three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional medium, but making that two-dimensional medium feel like it has dimension.
One trick to use to get that dimension is layering.
In the image above, note how there are elements at different distances from the camera that give the image depth.
You have the texture of the foreground grasses that provide fine details; the fence cutting diagonally across the frame; the rolling hills, each of which has an apex at different distances from the camera; and finally, the sky above it all.
The result is a shot that has tremendous depth and feels less like a flat image and more like a detail-rich 3-D representation of the scene.
Having a strong subject, as noted above, is a crucial aspect of composing a great shot.
One way to ensure you have a strong subject is to capture it in motion.
You can go one of two ways here – use a slow shutter speed to blur the motion of your subject, or as seen above, use a fast shutter speed to freeze the subject’s movement.
In this case, the fact that the man is in mid-air as he jumps the fence makes this shot more dynamic.
What’s more, look at how the man is shifted to the left of center in the frame. This helps us envision him completing his jump toward our right.
In other words, when you frame the shot of a moving subject, give it room to move into by leaving negative space in front of it.
Bonus: Look for Shadows
Shadows are an interesting compositional element because they add depth, dimension, and visual interest to a shot.
In looking at the image above, you can see why this is the case.
The top-down perspective flattens the scene, but with the long shadows created by the setting sun, we still get that sense of dimensionality discussed earlier.
What’s more, these shadows help strengthen the subjects by giving them more visual weight – if the there were no shadows, the strength of the subjects would be greatly diminished.
Note as well all the lines in the shot. Since they’re set on a diagonal, they create a more visually engaging background that makes the photo more interesting to view.