How to Compose a Photo

You arrived and now you are standing in front of that famous landmark. What time is it? That’s right, it’s time to take a photo to commemorate the experience. Snap, lets move on to the next memorable moment.

Hold on! Did you even think about what you were doing? Did you just take the same photo everyone else takes? Is it even worth bringing the camera out if your photos just look like the next persons.  It’s time to step outside the Snapshot and become a Photographer.

Tip 1:  Include Something in the Foreground

Include something in the foreground.

Sure, this is a great place and the waterfall is beautiful when you are there experiencing it.  If I take a photo of just the waterfall it’s sort of boring, everyone knows what a waterfall looks like.  We need something to add some depth to the photo.  We need something to add some perspective.  Hey, how about this weird stump hanging out in the sand, how about we include that and see what it looks like.  Not bad,…right?

The next time you are standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, that castle in Ireland, The Dead Sea, stop for a minute and take a look at your surroundings.  Sure you want that photo but what else can you include in the foreground to make it more interesting?

Tip 2: See in Shapes

Composition can be tough and it’s helpful if you try to see in shapes.  Yes, you must become the Neo of Photography and let the world drop out around you until all you see is code.  No, I’m kidding, but seeing in shapes does help.  Remember Geometry class, whether you know it or not you’re probably utilizing some geometry in composing your shots.

One of the most basic rules derived from geometry is the “rule of thirds“.  Visually, break your shot into three parts, horizontally and vertically, so that you have nine equal rectangular sections. In order to create a visually appealing photo, position the main points of interest in your photograph along the intersections of these angles within your frame.

In addition, try to find angles, rows, triangles, spirals within your shot.  Try to lead the top of buildings and the curbs of streets to the very corners or edges of your photos.  Try to identify lines that will lead the viewer in and imagine where the viewers’ eyes will go as they first gaze upon your image.  What do you think they see first and then where do their eyes go?

When composing this shot I thought about angles, lines, the floor and ceiling. I thought about leading the viewer in and down the hall.

Tip 3: Get Lost

It’s not everyday you see a old lawn mower and a tricycle climbing up a tree!

C’mon everyone, you’re traveling, get lost!  Almost everyone now days has GPS on their phone or some way to navigate them around, so suddenly becoming completely lost and turned around isn’t as frighting as it once might have been.  Getting lost is good. Why?  Because you never know what your going to find!

There’s all kinds of stuff waiting to be discovered just off the beaten path.  Sure, it  might take you four hours instead of two but you still get there and you arrive with some interesting photos others might miss.

Even if your not traveling, you don’t always need to take the same route everyday.  Break it up. Try something new.  Go home a different way.  Go take photos!

Tip 4: Get Low

For this photo, I put the camera on the train tracks.

Don’t be afraid to get low and get dirty!  Get on your stomach if you have to and let’s put some new perspective on this shall we.  Low not working?….Go high!  The point is you should not be one of those photographers that takes all images from the same perspective – that is your height.  Don’t be shy about it, embarrassed, whatever, that’s just stupid, who cares!  People are not looking at you thinking, “what the hell is that person doing”.  Nope, they are thinking, “I wonder what that photo will look like?”

Tip 5: Always Bring your Camera!

This one is important because the worse photo of the most incredible thing that happened is the photo you didn’t take.  Photo opportunities are everywhere and can happen in the least likely of places when you’re doing the most mundane things.

In the photo below I’m eating some pizza and having a beer out on the town with family.  A Melancholy Stranger sits alone at a bar looking distraught as a beautiful red haired girl in a peculiar outfit comes to give him a hug.  I saw the moment unfolding and it felt powerful to me so I grabbed the camera and snapped quick.  When something happens spontaneously it might only last a brief moment, so snap fast and then try to recompose and get your settings better for a second shot if time allows.  This photo looks staged but it’s not, its just a moment in time.  Will you be ready for that moment?  Will you have your camera?

Always Bring Your Camera

9 replies
  1. Professional Pictures
    Professional Pictures says:

    Great resource!

    Photography is an art and thus, it is often very exciting to explore. With the help of Photoshop and other photo editing software, it’s now possible to turn amateur shots into ready to share professional looking pictures.

  2. Micki
    Micki says:

    Fantastic tips! The photo of the girl is the red hair is captivating.

    I love that your tips focus on composition and timing rather than technique and equipment. I have two little kids with me when I travel, and really don’t have the time and patience to fiddle with lenses, or even the room in my backpack to carry a larger camera.

  3. Michael Falk
    Michael Falk says:

    Steve: Indeed, the rule of thirds is important! I didn’t go over it too much here but if anyone don’t understand a simple google search will solve all the mystery :)

    Thanks much Melanie, funny how moments can just happen. I’m still waiting for something really big haha

    Micki, I’ve seen stunning photos taken with iphones, small point and shoots, etc. All the fanciest gear in the world won’t make you a good photographer. You have to work at it, you have to go around thinking stuff like “wow, this is good lighting right here” ;) All the time! haha

  4. WYNNA
    WYNNA says:

    A loud round of applause for you buddy! You had me itching for my camera. Thanks for all the tips Mike! It’s really simple yet very useful. And the pictures are amazing! Where can I find more of your works? Do post them on site! :)

  5. Michael Falk
    Michael Falk says:

    Thanks Wynna :) I’ll try to post more landscapes and such on site. A lot of my recent stuff has been fashion related but my goal is to start working that into some bigger concepts that have a story to them. Like fashion editorials, some with a travel theme, maybe a desert theme, etc :)


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