Part 2 of a Series:  More incredible ideas above and beyond the normal ideas of Composition:


In part 1 of this series we talked about realizing that Composition is sometimes just something you just have to learn all the basic rules, and hope that it looks right to you.  It is like art:  sometimes you do it by the book, but, it may not be to everyone’s liking.  So, there are many other things in composition that  you have to take into consideration to make your photos or art just stand out and be unique.  In this “Part 2” I am hoping to go over some ideas that I have run across, several ideas in fact, that should be mentioned that are part of composition that just make sense, that apply to the rules, but, kind of stretch the rules as well.  So, with that in mind, let’s look at a few ideas:


We are often familiar with the rule of thirds:

rule of thirds
Rule of thirds:  Place subject in one of 4 quadrants.

But, let’s go one step further and think about what the subject is doing:

Photo by:  

Let’s give the subject something to look into (we call that LOOKING ROOM) and also give them some head room, so they are not bumping their head into the top of the frame ( We call that HEADROOM).  See how that is more important, in reality than just thinking about the rule of thirds.  Let’s look at it in another sense:

robs fox
Photo copyrighted by Rob’s

Even with animals, in wildlife, the best photographers will always give them some room in front of the animals for them to run into.  It just feels right.  Give them some “Looking Room”.

Another great example of giving “Looking room” is in action Photography:

sports looking into
Courtesy:  bing photos

Even in Sports Photos, having a place for the subject to “go in to” is a much more pleasing piece of composition than to run into the side of the picture.

Sometimes in good portraiture, you will see the most beautiful portraits with the people set off to the side, looking sideways, almost a profile photo with them looking into space or somewhere off to the side.  If you do a portrait like that, make sure you give them the space to “look into”:

profile portrait
Courtesy of Bing Photos

Notice how the subject is not even centered.  This type of portrait is much more pleasing to be off-centered because the subject has somewhere to “look in to” if she had her eyes open.  This is just good composition.  An off-centered portrait is a natural in this case.




Now this touches on a whole new world of photography and art.  This bucks the trend, somewhat of what most rules would even think about, but, this is one of the more popular things showing up in the new world.  And that is to use a lot of space in your photo or art.  Let’s give you some examples:

Michael Kenna


Simplification denotes reducing the elements in your composition down to a bare minimum—just what is necessary to create the composition. That entails removing unnecessary elements. In a way that is also minimalism. But simplification and minimalism are technically not the same thing. Simplification is specifically about removing unnecessary elements.  As we think about the above photo, can you imagine that photo hanging in your home?  Funny thing, many of you who read this either say yes, or no, but, those who say no, are thinking, I know someone who would love this photo in their home, right?  There are just certain people who love this kind of art.  Notice in doing this, how perfect the rules of composition are all in place in this.  It is very pleasing to the eye.   But, it does go against one rule:  and that is to fill the frame up with your subject.  So, this could be a big thing in some artistic rounds.


negative space
Michael Kenna

Just like with simplification, you don’t want extraneous elements around the subject, because that again attracts attention. But you can use elements like the sky or the ground to emphasize the subject.

As photographers, we spend a lot of time deciding what to put into a composition. But next time you’re out taking photos, dedicate some time to considering what should be left out of the frame.  An interesting idea in composition that may be something to think about.  Can you pull of something like this?




If your photograph engages a viewer for more than five seconds, it means it has something for the viewer to look into. If we brush aside the story part and strictly look into the aesthetic aspects of a photograph, what composition rule or principle is actually responsible for all that viewer’s attention? It’s depth—or perspective—in a photograph.  I like to call it : “IT TELLS A STORY”  Hardly a term for composition.  But, let’s throw that in.  If you follow all the rules of composition, and then you can tell a story at the same time, you will have a real winning photograph or piece of art.  How do you do that?

We all see beautiful sunset photos all the time, and we all go:  “oooh, and ahhh”” when we see these colorful photos.  I am going to show you two of my sunset photos and ask you which photo you really like:

Photo by Lanny Cottrell

This is one of my favorite sunset photos that I have taken.  It shows many different colors including getting into the twilight evening hours.  Trees out into the water make for an interesting foreground as well.


Photo by Lanny Cottrell

Now, almost the same sunset photo, but, now I have added depth or a story to it.  My son walked out into the water.  If you were looking at the two photos, and they were hanging on the wall, which one would you stop and look at longer?  90 percent of the people I asked this to, said they love the image of a child in the water with the sunset.  Why don’t we take more sunset photos with people in them?

Sur Sunrise, Oman

Here the road is leading toward the main subject, the sunrise (background), but instead of just a plain sunrise it leads toward it through a person standing (foreground) and town houses (middle ground). So it conveys enough details for the viewer to observe. The on-going street light gives a sense of distance between all these levels.

As we all know, a photograph is a two dimensional plane and normally it doesn’t fully recreate the actual emotions of what we saw at that time (and it never will). That’s why we should enjoy the process of taking photographs whether we get a shot or not). If anything can help a viewer to feel a little bit of reality in a photograph, it’s depth. It’s the third dimension of a photograph and one of the key composition rules in photography.  Depth is created by adding the human touch into what we see every day.  I like to think of it this way:  when we see something as beautiful as a sunset, wouldn’t you love to just sit there and soak it in?  Then put someone in the picture….. soaking it in.  Let them be you.  This is a unique touch in composition.  To make a  photograph become a story, or to make you feel something, or bring back memories, or wish you were there, or this is God telling you He is right there. 





Article written by Lanny Cottrell







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