How to develop a better eye for photograph composition.

One thing I hear from a lot of people is: How they can take better looking photos?  While being a massive all-encompassing question it’s often relating to photo composition.  Usually following the phrase “You have an eye for photography.  How can I do that?”  The number of “rules” and methods for taking pictures could (and does) fill many books but there is one simple practice I did that I think for me had the greatest impact on composing better photos.

Take 3 different photos of the same subject, then delete 2 that you like the least.

In practice it works like this.  You wander around someplace with a camera just looking at everything around you waiting for something of interest to catch your eye:

  • First, take a picture of the subject as it is when it caught your eye.
    This is your basic snapshot. An interesting building, a gnarled tree, a cool car, or some pretty flowers.
  • Second, change up the composition of the same subject.
    Maybe position a more interesting background behind the flowers.  Position the flowers so they’re not in the center of the frame and they’re juxtaposed with some other subject. Get up close to one of the flowers so the rest are out of focus.
  • Third, take an even more outrageous composition of the subject.
    Pretend you’re a first year art student and take the most over the top photo you can.  Throw in weird angles.  Get low to the ground and take a picture up at the flowers.  Get so close nothing else fits in frame. Try some blurred motion photography.  Make it a “pretentious artsy-fartsy” black and white picture.

Then when you get home go through all your groups of 3 and play survivor where 2 get deleted and only one remains.  You’ll find in most cases the basic snapshot dies, and some of the most over the top pictures are the best of the group.  Not only does the exercise force you to think of new and interesting ways of photographing subjects but it forces you to take photos that are different from the traditional snapshots most people take.

95% of the world is taking snapshots at eye level (5-6ft off the ground) with the subject in the center of the picture.  If you break this mold you’re already putting yourself in the 5% of people taking interesting and new pictures.


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