PHOTOGRAPHY IS ART! AND GOOD COMPOSITION IS WHAT MAKES IT ART !

To say that photography is ART, is a true statement. Some people take photos to be artistic, while others use the photography medium as a source for recording memories. So, my whole goal in doing these blogs is to help you enjoy photography more. And the only way you can enjoy photography more, is if you know the rules and steps, and tips of good composition. And to make sure you understand everything there is to know about the rules of composition, I am going to present a whole week on the subject of COMPOSITION. I confess, I think I know the basics of good composition. But, as I studied a little bit more about the tips and the rules of good composition, I came across an article that had 15 steps to good composition. So, I want to go over these 15 steps so that you can learn all these as well.

You know what the trick is to learning these 15 steps are? Having them posted somewhere, where you can refresh your memory once in a while, so that when you go to take photos artistically, you will know all these steps. I will post in this blog, the complete 15 steps we all need to know, so that we become true artists.

The article I am going to take parts of and put it before you comes from STACEY HILL, who wrote this article. I am going to break this down and discuss all 15 steps throughout this week. Hope you enjoy this. I think talking about composition usually means at least one thing: the photos used in teaching these principles are usually amazing. So, enjoy:

Composition Checklist for Beginners:

At a recent meetup with several photographers, during a discussion on composition, one of the beginners commented: “Why isn’t there a composition checklist for all the things we need to think about?” It was a good question and was the inspiration that prompted this article.

It’s not about the gear

You can have the most expensive camera gear and the most amazing light. You could be in a fabulous scenic location, or shooting a stunning model. There are many situations that might provide you with the opportunity to shoot breathtaking images, but if the composition is not spot on, then it doesn’t matter how fancy or expensive your gear is.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - flower blooming

The reverse is true also, you can craft amazing images with beginner grade gear (even your cell phone) if your understanding of composition is good. When you know the rules and guidelines, can work them to your advantage, and even push the barriers and be really creative. No one will care what gear you used to get the shot, they will go “Wow, you must have an amazing camera!”

Learn the composition basics

Even though there are many different kinds of photography, whether you do street, landscapes, macro, studio or anything else, there are a lot of basic composition concepts that apply. Not every concept will need to be considered for every image but having a good understanding of the basics will get you a long way.

Truly understanding composition was one of the major steps in my photography making a big step up in improvement. Like every new idea, you have to put some effort into learning the idea, practicing, learning from your mistakes and practicing again and again. When you can frame up a well-composed shot without consciously thinking about what you are doing and why then you can really start to think about new ways to frame and shape your images.

First, you have to master the basics.

roller derby - Composition Checklist for Beginners

Getting Started

First of all, these are not rules. While there are some guidelines you should consider when creating an aesthetically pleasing image, it is entirely possible to ignore them all and still make a stunning image. It is, however, a lot easier to do that when you know what the guidelines are first. So this is a list of concepts you should consider for each image, not rules you absolutely have to follow.

Some things are easy and obvious, or so you might think. Yet the number of images with noticeably crooked horizons you see posted online is a testament to the fact that this stuff is not always obvious, and is hard to learn. Be kind to yourself and take it in stages. Maybe even write your list down and carry it in your camera bag as a handy reminder.

Also, every image will have different elements in it, and different concepts will apply. So pick and choose the ones that work for you and the scene in front of you. As an example, there are things you would do when framing up a landscape that won’t apply when shooting street photography shots.

So be sensible, pick a few that make sense to you or that apply to the way you shoot. Then practice them until it’s like breathing – it just happens automatically when you pick up the camera and frame a shot. When you get to that stage, add some more concepts to your process, and absorb those the same way.

Composition Checklist

So here is the checklist of things to look for in your composition as a starting point.

  1. Is the horizon straight?
  2. Is the subject strong and obvious within the image?
  3. Are the edges of the frame clean? Is anything poking into the frame that distract the viewer? Are there elements of the image that lead the eye out of the frame that could be positioned better?
  4. Is the background clean – are there distracting elements like a car parked in the background, or a fence or a house that doesn’t fit? Can you move or change the angle to remove that element?
  5. Is the foreground tidy? Are you shooting a landscape or natural scene where there might be branches or leaves or twigs in the foreground that could be tidied away?
  6. The position of people in the shot. Do they have a lamp post or a tree growing out of the top of their head? Have you chopped heads, feet, arms, or legs off?
  7. Eye contact – when shooting a group of people, do we have eye contact with all your subjects?
  8. Camera position – are you at the right height/angle for the best composition?
  9. Point of focus – when taking photos of people/creatures/animals have you focused on the eye? Do you have a catchlight in the eye?
  10. Is the Rule of Thirds being used effectively?
  11. Do you have a sense of scale – particularly valid for large landscape scenes?
  12. How does the eye travel around the image? Where does it go first? Where does it end up? Is that the story you want to tell the viewer?
  13. Lens choice – does the lens you are using affect the composition in a positive or negative way? Would a different lens be worth considering?
  14. Less is more – what truly needs to be in the frame? What can you leave out?
  15. Is it sharp? Do you want it to be?

Considering Composition in More Detail

#1 – Is the horizon straight?

It would seem fairly easy to notice if the horizon is straight when you are taking a shot. It is also extremely easy to fix in post-processing, yet so many images are posted online that have crooked horizons, varying from a little bit to quite a lot. Our brains automatically hiccup when they encounter it, so it is a genuine composition issue that needs to be resolved.

You can take the time to set the camera up so it is completely level. When shooting a panorama, timelapse, video and similar things, it is worth the extra effort. For general purpose use, it can be easily edited in post-production.

tilted horizon example - Composition Checklist for Beginners
The horizon is about 3 degrees tilted down to the left – just enough to make your brain twitch.

#2 – Is the subject strong and obvious within the image?

There are some composition concepts that are fairly straightforward and obvious, like point #1 above. Then there are some that are more open to interpretation.

This point could be considered one of those things. However, I then propose this question to you. If the subject is not strong or obvious then how do we know what the point of your image is?

Composition Checklist for Beginners - green garden image
There are a lot of competing elements in this image, where do we start?

#3 – Are the edges of the frame clean?

Are there things poking into the frame that distract the viewer? Look for elements in the image which lead your eye out of the frame. Could they be positioned better?

Running your eye around the edge of the frame when composing your shot is a valuable step that can save you a lot of time. This is one lesson I personally had to learn the hard way and it applies to most general styles of photography.

Are there things poking into the frame from outside it that impose themselves on the image and distract the viewer? Are there blurry elements in the foreground that you could move or change your point of view to reduce their impact? Is there half a car or a building partially visible in the background perhaps?

Quite often when you are framing a shot, you are focused so intently on the subject, that you may neglect to see the whole image. So you may miss these extra details that can make or break the shot.

purple flower - Composition Checklist for Beginners
The extra leaf and bud in the top left corner are distracting.

#4 – Is the background clean?

Are there distracting elements like a car parked in the background, or a fence or a house that doesn’t fit? Can you move or change the camera angle to eliminate that element from the image?

This is an extra step on top of point #3 above – putting more effort into assessing the background.

Are you taking a nice landscape and there is a farm shed clearly visible? Perhaps there is a truck parked in the distance or a vehicle on the road you need to wait to move out of frame. Are the colors harmonious? Is the sky doing nice things? Is the sun a bit too bright in the clouds?

colonial mansion - Composition Checklist for Beginners
This lovely colonial mansion had a very modern hospital and school behind it and was difficult to frame it up to reduce those jarring elements.

#5 – Is the foreground tidy?

Are you shooting a landscape or natural scene? Are there branches, leaves, or twigs in the foreground that could be tidied away?

This is particularly relevant in nature and landscape photography, but still worth remembering in general.

Is what you have in the foreground adding to the image or distracting from the subject? Is there rubbish or stuff on the ground that looks messy? Are there twigs too close to the lens so they are blurry? Can you move any branches or things out of the way or do you need to change the angle of shooting instead?

Composition Checklist for Beginners - red mushroom
Look at all the mess of cones and twigs in the foreground, all blurry and untidy.

You saw the list, there are 15 items on the list of things to know about composition. This is the first 5. We will go through 6-10 tomorrow. And then for the “Photos of the Week” on Wednesday, be prepared to see some amazing photos that all follow the rules of composition. Then on Thursday, we will finish off the list from 11-15. And then Friday, we will have another special presentation of composition that I am sure you will love.

And now, just a few examples of great composition (True Art):

This is minimalism: Not much going on in the background. Horizon is straight, and the rule of thirds is in order. A Pexel Photo by Jayant Kulkarni



Horizon is straight, rule of thirds applied, and they eye is led to the main subject. Photo by Pixabay.



Another perfectly artistic photo: rule of thirds applied, and horizon is spot on. Photo by Pixabay.

Published by 123photogo

I have been a photographer for many years. Worked in retail selling cameras and accessories for over 20 years. Taught many photo classes, and have even been a judge in several county fairs. Now, I want to share photo instructions and entertainment with all other photographers around the world.

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