The Best Techniques to Improve Your Photographic Composition

Nov 25, 2023

The Best Techniques to Improve Your Photographic Composition For Amateur Photographers

Today I'm going to share with you the way that I started to bridge the "frustration gap" in my photography. That gap is the disconnect we often feel between the idea we have in our mind for a photograph, and the result we end up with.

Like building a house, creating a great photograph comes from a solid foundation.

The foundation is knowing what to shoot in the first place.

Unfortunately, this is where it all starts to go wrong.

Because We See The World As Passive Observers

Walking around a city, I let a lot of visual information simply wash over me.
My mind is filtering out a lot of what it considers to be 'noise'.
It's looking for things I need to be aware of.

The traffic in the street.
The shady character.
The dog 💩

So this means:

  • My mind isn't in 'photographer' mode
  • Interesting subjects for photos are missed
  • When I do switch over to photographer mode, I'm instantly overwhelmed by the flood of new visual stimulus

This is where the frustration gap gets its start

Today we're featuring the wonderful photography of Rachael Talibart

Imagine you're on a surfboard out on a calm ocean. The waves start to pick up - this is you switching from being a passive observer to an active photographer. Think of the waves as ideas for photos.

Your goal is to ride one of these waves to the beach of photographic goodness. But if you choose the wrong wave, there are some rocks waiting for you to crash into.

To help you pick out the right wave on which you can pull some gnarly moves (you can tell I have no idea about surfing terminology!). Riding it all the way to a great photo, I'm going to share with you one simple idea.

Here's how step by step:

Step 1: Be specific about what you want to photograph

Ansel Adams said: There's nothing worse than a sharp idea of a fuzzy concept.

I like to photograph angles, signs, and buildings.
So that's what I'm looking for when I'm walking around a city.
I have a clear objective and don't really pay any attention (photographically speaking) to people going about their daily business for example.

Over time you might get better at seeing various ideas, but for now, to bridge that gap - limit the number of waves you want to try and choose from.

Step 2: Don't be clever and overthink the image

The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don't have to explain things with words - Elliott Erwitt

I used to try and make my photos oh so clever, deep, and full of tricky little quirks. Missing the point completely that none of this means anything if your base photograph is a hot mess.

I had picked a wave but kept trying to get it to join with another wave.
So when I showed people my photo, I had to point out why I took it.

I'm sure you've met someone like this.

The idea, the subject that has caught your attention. Make it the primary focus of your photo so it's completely, and utterly, unmistakeable what this photo is about.

Step 3: If in doubt, SQUINT

In this rough sea of infinite waves, it can feel overwhelming to try and find the one. But there is a secret weapon you can employ.

Look around you and squint (or in my case, take your glasses off!). Defocus your lens.
Blur it all.

What emerges from the world when you do this are simple shapes, forms, colours, and ideas.

Combine this step with the ones before it, and you find the right wave, which you can ride with skill all the way over those hidden rocks of the frustration gap and create great photos.

  • Photos that grab someone's attention.
  • Have a focus and idea.
  • That you love.

Photography doesn't have to be hard and frustrating. Doing little things like this will go a massive way to helping you match up the idea you have in your mind with the photo that you end up with.


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