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.


As a street photographer, one of the most difficult jobs to do, but, most rewarding is to take portraits of the people you meet on the street. There are rules and regulations to taking photos of people on the street, and once you know them, then the better off you will be. Nothing like taking a photo of someone, publishing the photo, and then get a lawsuit for using the photo without permission from the model. So, let’s go through the things you need to know about taking portraits of strangers on the street:

This time we are providing you with a video. The article was done originally by Sunny Shrestha. But the Video was provided by: Jamie Windsor. Hope you enjoy:

Street Photography: Portrait Techniques

Taking portraits with a model or of somebody you know is nowhere as challenging as photographing strangers in public. You get very limited time to work, and you don’t always get to apply all the composition techniques and color theories that you might’ve studied. You need to be quick and precise. This makes it very difficult for street photographers to take the perfect street portrait. Photographer Joel Sternfeld, on the other hand, is somebody who’s brilliant at doing it. In this video, photographer Jamie Windsor discusses the styles that we can see in Sternfeld’s work:

Please click on the video or arrow in the middle, and you will learn all about the proper way to take portraits on the street.

If you study Sternfeld’s photos, you can see that they have some subtle yet impactful characteristics. One feature that you might notice in his work is how he captures individuals as they are. His images strive for an accurate representation of the individual. He avoids exaggeration or biases in any form.

“In my opinion, this is exactly what a street portraiture should do. Show a person  going about their day to day life without pretense, without judgment, without mockery, but with humanity.”

You can also notice how wisely he composes his image with regards to the color palette. The subject either seems to seamlessly blend into their environment or completely stand out from it. This creates a sense of connect or disconnect of the subject with its surroundings respectively.

This is the end of this series on HOW TO BECOME A GREAT STREET PHOTOGRAPHER ! Refer to these 5 episodes to learn all that you need.

Some more great “street photos”:





Today’s session, part 4 on “MASTERING STREET PHOTOGRAPHY” is one that is something you can really learn from: THE 10 COMMON MISTAKES, STREET PHOTOGRAPHER MAKE” You have just learned from several photographers of just what you should do to get the best “STREET PHOTOS’. Now, I want to show you some of the mistakes street photographers make, and hope you will learn from this as well:

This article is also written by James Maher, who is a frequent instructor on this blog. Thanks to him for his insight.

Are You Making These 10 Common Street Photography Mistakes?

When looking at the work of street photographers, it’s often a common thought that, “I could do that if only I were there.” However, when you finally go out into the world with your camera it can be shocking to find that it’s not quite that easy. There’s a reason that the best street photographers are so dedicated: it’s necessary.

Smiley Face, SoHo, NYC

When you first start out, it’s so easy to make technical mistakes and it’s surprisingly difficult to figure out what makes for an interesting photo. These are things that are developed through time and experience, but to help you along, here is a list of the ten most common mistakes that beginning street photographers make.

1. Using a slow shutter speed and shallow depth of field

Whenever I teach, about eight or nine out of ten photographers come to me shooting in Aperture Priority mode. This can be great to do, however, if you are not experienced enough technically, it can also cause you a huge problem

Cellphones, NYC

For street photography, a fast shutter speed is necessary to freeze the motion in people. I primarily use 1/250 of a second. If it’s sunny out, then I will shoot a little faster and if it is darker, I will go to 1/160 or even 1/125 of a second. This big problem when you shoot on Aperture Priority mode is that it’s easy to forget to pay attention to the shutter speed the camera is choosing for you. If you set your camera to f/8 in then sun and then suddenly go into a darker area, you could all of a sudden be shooting at 1/20 or 1/10 of a second without noticing. The image may still look sharp on the back screen of the camera, but then when you bring it into your computer suddenly all your images will be a little blurry.

In addition, while it’s often necessary to shoot with a wide-open aperture because of the light, shooting with a smaller aperture (f/8 or above) can be very beneficial. Context and background is key in a lot of street images and having a larger depth of field can help everything stay in decent focus. If multiple subjects pop up at different depths, then it will be easier to keep them both in focus as well. Finally, if you happen to miss the focus on the subject slightly, which is very easy to do in the fast moving world of street photography, then there will still be a good chance that you will get them in focus.

To achieve all of this, you will have to raise your ISO. I rarely shoot lower than ISO 400 in sunlight and am usually between ISO 800 and 3200. At night, I usually use ISO 6400. Test out your camera, but don’t be afraid to take some grainy images.

2. Walking too fast

When you go out shooting, it is common to think that you have an endpoint that you need to get to. You don’t. Every step of the way you are somewhere. Even when the images are not obvious, they are there.


It’s a common mistake to walk very quickly. It almost seems like some people think that the faster they go, the more interesting moments they will come across. But this is not the case. The same number of moments will occur whether or not you are standing and waiting for them or walking fast to find them. The problem is that by walking fast it becomes much easier to miss the moments. The slower you go, the easier it is to look around and to be ready to capture the moment when it happens.

When you go for a walk, find interesting locations to linger and wait for the right moment to happen in front of you, ready with your camera.

3. Only photographing the flashiest people

Flashy people can be wonderful to photograph. Interesting hats, hair, clothing, tattoos, and jewelry can make for one heck of a beautiful photograph. However, these people only make up a small part of the population.

Businessman, NYC

The people that aren’t as flashy are not any less interesting. They show the same emotions and can make for even more interesting images than the flashy people. Most other people are out there searching only for the flashy. Try to photograph all different types of people when you are out.

4. Not shooting enough, not looking, and being impatient

The world isn’t just going to hand you moments. It is all too common for me to go out with someone and for him or her to look around frustrated like nothing is happening. They expect it to be easier. You have to work to find the best moment and you need to figure out what makes an interesting image.

Construction Workers, NYC

An elephant isn’t just going to fall from the sky every five minutes. You have to put in the time and effort for those moments to occur. In addition to that, sometimes you have to find and create those ‘elephants.’ Sometimes the most interesting moments are the subtle ones that fly right beneath your nose. Looking and noticing the potential for good photographs is a skill that is developed over time.

The common theme that exists between all great street photographers is that they spent the time out in the world with a camera to catch those moments. They didn’t just go out on Sundays for an hour. They photographed and photographed and kept a camera with them constantly. Try to shoot on a more frequent basis. Instead of being a weekend warrior, try to find 15 minutes on a more frequent basis, wherever you are. If you don’t want to bring your camera with you, consider getting a smaller camera to take around the rest of the time, or use a phone camera. Fifteen minutes every day will make a gigantic difference and it will give you a good excuse to take a fun break and go for a walk.

5. Being too sneaky

I can be pretty sneaky with a camera when I need to be. I can look like a tourist excited by the city or someone trying to figure out how to use their camera. I can pretend to photograph a building behind a subject like the best of them. I will shoot without looking through the viewfinder sometimes. However, if I can look through the viewfinder and take a proper shot without getting punched, that’s what I’m going to do.


Sometimes you have to just look through the viewfinder and take the damn image. Shooting haphazardly without looking through the viewfinder can work, but it can also become a crutch. Force yourself to look through that viewfinder and take a steady, composed shot of a good moment. Then if you missed it you at least gave your best effort. There’s always next time.

Also, there is usually no reason to take twenty photos of the same person. If a situation develops, then hang around and wait for the moment to develop. But it is one thing to take a photo of someone and then wait for the situation to develop and it is another to point your camera at them for a minute straight while shooting constantly and waiting for something else to happen. That just makes things uncomfortable for everyone involved.

6. Only shooting outdoors and in busy places

Busy places are my favorite areas for photography. I love to be surrounded by all different types of people and if you have a limit amount of time, more moments will happen in a shorter time period in a busier area.

But the rest of the world is just as interesting to photograph. Go to quiet areas without as many people. Take photos with less going on. Find ways to make the quieter areas look unique and interesting. Take images without people in them. If you stick to only shooting in the busiest areas then you’re cutting out a majority of the world. Street photography does not just mean shooting on a busy street corner.

7. Not shooting close to home

On a similar note, try to take some images close to home and even in your home. The most interesting candid images can be the most personal. In addition, you will know the area better. If your neighborhood is quiet, then take quiet images that show it. Try not to take your neighborhood for granted. If you took someone from a different part of the world or even a different time period and parked them where you live, they would probably find so many weird and interesting aspects of the surroundings and would capture a lot of scenes that you might take for granted and overlook. What is something that might look normal to you but is actually pretty special?

8. Trying to photograph classic images

Street photographs are like wine; they get more interesting with age. However, it’s hard to figure out the aspects of them that will become the most interesting. Everyone gets frustrated that you cannot take a photograph these days without people staring at their phones, but that’s probably the most interesting sudden change that has happened, and who knows how long that will last for?

iMac, Yosemite, NYC

The images you take now that look like they are classic or old end up usually just being images that copy the look of previous photographers, back when those moments were modern. The more modern the photo you take, the more classic it will feel to someone in the future.

9. Not spending the time to organize your archive

One of the most vital and most overlooked aspects of being a good street photographer is how you edit. You need a good system for organizing your images. If you are like any good street photographer, you will shoot frequently and your archive will grow quickly. After 10 years of shooting, what do you think will happen?

Red Rose, NYC

I highly suggest using Lightroom, because one of its most important features is its incredible organizational system. After a session, import your photos into your archive through Lightroom immediately and do a very quick edit. You can and should come back to them another time after the hype from the day has subsided, but you also need to create a system where you don’t get overwhelmed by a messy archive of thousands of photos.

I will immediately go through a day’s shoot after I import the images and star every decent image as three stars and every image that I love as five stars. Once a year, I will do a spring cleaning of my archive and get rid of the terrible images, but I will also make sure to go back through all of the three stars images to see if there are any gems that I missed or to lower the five star images that I no longer love. By doing this after each time you shoot, you will easily be able to go through a months of your images, click to only show the five or three star images, and will have a much more manageable group of images to evaluate.

In addition, use Lightroom’s Collections to your advantage. Collections allow you to group your photos together without having to move their physical locations on the computer. Think about the different ways that you might want to show your images together. As you grow these collections, they will start to help you think more about you are photographing and will help you find more content when you are out shooting.

10. Not printing your work

This goes for all types of photography, but in my experience particularly street photography. Street photography images are not usually classic images that people think about putting on their walls, but that does not mean that you should not print them (or put them on your walls).

A large photography cork board from the Container Store

Street photographs can work well alone but often they work great in groups. Create a group of your street images that work together and put them next to each other on a wall. Another fun idea is to purchase a cork board and fill it up with your street images. You should also consider printing out a lot of 5×7 images, sequencing them, and storing them in a nice box or place for your friends and family to see. Or use Blurb to create a book of your images to display. These images deserve to be shown in places other than a website or blog. They deserve to be printed just as much as a beautiful landscape.

This is the end of Part 4: MASTERING STREET PHOTOGRAPHY ! One more this week, and you should know it all.

How about a few GOOD photos now of some street photography: