The 10 Best Photography Composition Techniques to Improve Your Travel Photos

Photography Composition Techniques
Photography Composition to Improve Your Travel Photos
Photography Composition

Welcome to our guide to photography composition techniques and how they can improve your travel photography. You might hear them referred to as rules of composition or compositional techniques, but they are all the same thing. And without sounding cliché, rules are meant to be broken. These photography composition techniques provide a good starting point to improve the composition of your photos but don’t be afraid to veer away from them, just like in the picture below.

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The shot above has a centred subject and hits no typical compositional technique, but it still works because there’s more to good travel photography than just composition. So, if you’re looking for other ways to improve your travel photography, we’ve put together some practical travel photography tips and 3 steps to better travel photos.

What is Photography Composition?

In photographic terms, photography composition is the arrangement of elements within the frame of a photograph. It’s about how the various elements in the scene, such as the subject, background, and foreground, are arranged to create a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing image. Good composition can help draw the viewer’s eye towards the main subject and develop a sense of balance and visual interest.

In simpler terms, photography composition is how you arrange the subject or subjects when framing up your shot. Things that already exist are subjects, like colours, textures, contrasts, patterns, shapes, people, cars, roads or buildings. The list goes on. How you arrange those subjects is composition.

Why is Composition Important in Photography?

Photography composition techniques are the building blocks of every photograph. They can significantly impact a picture’s success because they are based on how the human eye and brain perceive and process visual information. You can create compelling and visually appealing images by understanding and using good compositional techniques, and if you’re anything like me, understanding photography composition techniques is paramount. That’s because they are an excellent handrail to make things more straightforward, which helps to produce better results quicker. And once you understand them, you’ll be shooting on autopilot to capture compositionally sound travel photos.

The bottom line of why composition in photography is essential, in its simplest form, is to make the pictures look as good as they can. You want to make your photographs look good. Sometimes, that’s not just a case of sticking things where you think they should go in the frame but how the pictures feel, but these compositional techniques are a good starting point. And coupling them up can contribute to even stronger composition, such are combining rule of thirds with negative space or balancing elements with selective focus. Without further ado, let’s explore the rules of photography composition!

Photography Composition Techniques

1 | Frame Orientation

First up is frame orientation, which is often overlooked in photography composition. It’s up first because you’ve got to decide whether you want your shot horizontal or vertical. The subjects of your photograph might be better suited to a vertical or horizontal frame and look more balanced than the other way around. Or you may be shooting for something specific, such as for Instagram, a webpage or a magazine, and require your picture to be a particular orientation. Almost 70% of my photography is shot in portrait orientation.

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2 | Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most popular photography composition techniques, if not the most. It’s the basis of many pictures and a great starting point. It involves dividing the frame into nine equal rectangles, as shown below. The rectangles aren’t significant, but the horizontal and vertical lines are because you aim to place the main subject or other significant parts of the scene, such as horizons, along these lines. The rule of thirds is so commonly used that you’ll find the rule of thirds ‘grid’ in your viewfinder. So, if you didn’t know, that’s the rule of thirds right there.

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Photography composition – rule of thirds

The theory behind the rule of thirds is that it helps to balance the elements in the frame. However, the rule of thirds is just a guideline and a good starting point, so don’t worry if things don’t sit exactly on the lines as long as the elements look balanced. And if you’re shooting people, consider using the rule of thirds to frame up your portraits by placing the subject’s head or eyes along the top line, like in the shot below.

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There are other techniques similar to the rule of thirds, such as the Golden Ratio, but I’ve never once composed a shot using them because they are very similar to the rule of thirds and golden points.

3 | Golden Points

Golden points go hand in hand with the rule of thirds and sit at the intersections where you should place your dominant subjects, such as a building or person, like in the picture below. They usually form part of the rule of thirds, but they deserve their own place on this list. That’s because sometimes, you won’t have anything else in the frame to place along the horizontal or vertical lines, so place your subject on a golden point if you don’t know what else to do with it, and you won’t go far wrong. And if you do have a subject and horizontal or vertical lines, aim to put the dominant subject on a golden point.

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4 | Symmetry

Symmetry is the balance and repetition of elements on either side of the frame or around a central axis. Think of water that looks like glass to create a mirror image straight across the centre of the frame. You can use symmetry to create a sense of balance and visual interest in a photograph or convey stability, order, and calmness. Repeating elements, such as patterns, shapes, or lines, or through reflections, helps to create symmetry, as you often see in landscape photographs of lakes, for example.

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Photography composition techniques and photography composition rules.

5 | Negative Space

Negative space is all about space in your shot but is to be balanced against the main part of the subject. It’s a commonly used technique, one you’ll have seen in National Geographic, where the text overlays the picture. If you look closely, you’ll notice the text is rarely over anything significant, which will usually be the negative space.

Negative space is also useful to help give space to a person and is usually in the direction of the individual’s gaze. However, composing your shot oppositely can be edgy – getting the subject looking out of the frame instead of into it. It’s also helpful when you don’t have a long enough lens to fill the frame appropriately, so stick the subject on the rule of thirds line or a golden point and voila! Ha!

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6 | Balancing Elements

Balancing a dominant subject against negative space, for example. Or balancing two elements by using diagonally opposite golden points or two parallel lines that run along the rule of thirds.

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Photography composition is more than just arranging things in certain places because you think they should go there. This is the point at which you might bend the rules of composition a bit. That’s because composition in photography is also about balance and balancing multiple elements, which is more important than you think. But balance isn’t something you can learn from a blog post. It’s something you start to feel as you become more experienced, and you know where to put things, whether using contrast or colours against one another, dominant features against other features, or negative space against the main subject. Or by placing elements on diagonally opposite golden points.

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7 | Selective Focus

Selective focus is a technique that uses a shallow depth of field to highlight a specific part of the image while the rest is blurry. Selective focus can help emphasise a particular element of your shot and to draw the viewer’s attention to it.

Depth of field is the nearest to the furthest part of an image in focus. A shallow depth of field will have a narrow area in focus, with the rest of the photo remaining blurry. There are three factors that affect depth of field, which are focal length, distance to subject and aperture.

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So, you’ve got your scene, and now you can break it up by separating your subject from the background using selective focus to isolate your subject. This gives your viewer nowhere else to look but the sliver of the subject you’ve chosen to be in focus. This technique is so desirable that manufacturers have developed a ‘depth effect’ to create a shallow depth of field on your smartphone.

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Remember when I said subjects exist and composition doesn’t until you frame up and take your picture? Well, this is where things get a bit more interesting because you need specific parts of your subject to help fulfil the following composition techniques.

8 | Frame in a Frame

A frame is your subject or at least part of it, but it’s not yet a frame in a frame. To be a frame in a frame, you need to position the subject, usually a frame (a doorway or window frame, for example) or archway around the edge of your viewfinder, like in the picture below. It’s a simple technique that works a charm every time.

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9 | Leading Lines

The first thing you need to know about leading lines is that the lines need to lead somewhere. Placing some lines in your picture isn’t leading lines unless it leads somewhere. For example, that could be the edges of a road or the road marking that leads your eye to a person walking along the road, a mountain range or a significant feature. Leading lines need to lead somewhere. Otherwise, they are just lines. Leading Lines are difficult to achieve. To do them well, anyway, because the missing piece of the leading lines puzzle is usually a decent subject at the end of them.

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10 | Fill the Frame

Last but not least is to fill the frame. Not because it’s the least important but because it’s the last bit before taking the shot. You should be left with a pleasing frame using the above techniques to arrange the elements, but this is your final check. It’s time to confirm you are filling the frame with what you want so that it’s balanced, with the right things in the right places, to make a balanced and pleasing photo.

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Ask yourself if the subject is too loose with too much space around it, whether it’s too tight and there isn’t enough space for the subject to breathe, or if you are cropping out crucial subjects that should be in the frame. Ensure you fill the frame appropriately – not too tight or loose, with what you want. And don’t worry if you can’t fill the frame exactly how you wish in-camera. You can always crop your shot in the editing phase to perfect the shot balance because you might want a different aspect ratio to what you see in the viewfinder.

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In Summary

Composition in photography is all about attention to detail and creating balance in your photographs by arranging subjects in different ways to create compelling imagery. Use these rules of photography composition to enable you to produce the best possible pictures you can. But there’s more to great pictures than just strong composition. If you combine these composition techniques with the 3 step process and our travel photography tips for better travel photos, you’ll be on your way to taking superb pictures in no time!

Photography Composition Techniques

  1. Frame Orientation
  2. Rule of Thirds
  3. Golden Points
  4. Symmetry
  5. Negative Space
  6. Balancing Elements
  7. Selective Focus
  8. Frame in a Frame
  9. Leading Lines
  10. Fill the Frame
Photography Composition

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