Composition got you frustrated? Well turn that frown upside down because you’re about to learn the most important rule in photography.
For many people composition is the most inexplicable part of photography. It can be a major challenge to figure out what makes a good photo so if you constantly find yourself wondering why one shot is a home run and why another is out in left field I’ve got a simple credo that that will help you get your compositions in the ballpark every single time: Fill The Frame With What You Like.
The world is a complicated place and any scene you come across has hundreds of things that you could photograph. For example, when you’re out at the beach there are waves, rocks, sand, seaweed, other people, buildings, cliffs, plants, seagulls, seals, and dogs, just to name a few. And each of these things could find its way into your photos.
Your job, before you ever even push the shutter button, is to stop and look, and identify what, of all those things, you think is cool. Whatever you think is cool, that’s what should be in your photo.
And if you think a lot of different things are cool, then take a lot of different photos. Don’t try to shoehorn everything into one photo. Because often the best photos are the simplest ones, the ones containing only a single main subject. Or an idea, like the contrast or relationship between two different subjects. Photos are taken in at a glance, so the simpler your photo is likely the more impact it will have.
Now if you’re having trouble identifying what the subject of your photo should be, simply pay attention to what your eyes are doing. Whatever they keep coming back to, wherever they rest: that’s your photo.
And once you’ve identified what your photo is about, then fill the frame with it. You can zoom in, but generally speaking it’s better to physically get closer. I like to say don’t use your zoom lens, use your zoom legs. This will help the impact of your photo even more.
The next step, after you’ve actually taken a photo, is to get rid of what you don’t like or don’t care about. Look at all the elements in your image and if you don’t like them or don’t care about them, then they shouldn’t be in your photo. Too much blue sky? Pan down and it’s Gone [banner peak]. Weird branch sticking into the side of your frame? Take a small step and remove it. Footprints in your frame? Change position to get them out.
It really is that simple: Identify the good stuff, get closer, and remove all the distracting, boring, or ugly elements. Fill The Frame With What You Like and even if you never learn anything else about compositional theory, you’ll find your photos leaping off the page at you.
Thanks for reading!
Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel for even more landscape photography how-to.
Join Josh on Social!