Copyright Scott Bourne 2005 - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Scott Bourne 2005 - All Rights Reserved

Trying to decide which composition best suits a scene is something that takes an eye for detail and some practice. But to make the path a bit easier, I’ve included some basic tips.

a. Know what NOT to include. Simplify, simplify, simplify. As you look at each element in the scene, ask yourself, “How does this element make the photo stronger?” If it doesn’t, simplify and remove it.

b. Remember that the closest object tends to dominate the foreground. If this is what you want to accomplish, no worries. But if the foreground object is simply in the scene to establish scale, be careful that it doesn’t take up too much real estate.

c. Check for intruders. Is that twig on your right in the frame? How about those messy piles of leaves on the bottom of the frame? Is there a telephone poll jutting into the scene from the left? Check all around the outside edges of the frame to make sure nothing is sneaking into your picture that you don’t want there in the first place.

d. Always try to work with odd-numbers of subjects. Five birds, three trees, seven apples, etc. For some reason, the human eye doesn’t like looking at batches of even numbered things as well as it does odd-numbered.

e. Every picture should have a beginning, a middle and an end. You can align this to a foreground, middle ground and background. Try to layer the shot. Have something of value that relates to the story you want to tell in every part of the picture.

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Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Scott, great tips. Thanks. Question: Take a closeup head shot of, say, a wolf. Blurry background. What would be the beginning, middle, and end of something like that?

  2. This is something I need to work on a lot.

  3. Scott, I think it is so awesome that you share these tid bits of information for everyone to learn and grow. It is very much appreciated, and I thank you. Cheers.

  4. Hi Scot,
    I just wanted to complement you on the accompanying photo to this post, it is truly mesmerising, I would love to see that as a large print. I think it also emphasised the point you often make about trying to capture something different in a subject; and not just a picture of a moose, or is it…….

  5. Thanks Scott you’ve done it again. Just great little tips that go such a long way. I might have to start making a cheat sheet to read every day with your simple tips.

  6. @Trevor: I think there may already be *several* cheat sheets available; if I had to guess, I would imagine that most of their titles begin with “88 Secrets to…”

  7. […] agreed-upon guidelines for a good composition. On March 20 I wrote a piece for the blog called Five Composition Tips. I’ve decided to expand on this. I also want to note these are GUIDELINES, not rules. For each of […]

  8. Hi Jerry it’s sort of an ethereal concept – but for instance, you could certainly look at this beginning, middle and end in conjunction with angle, shape, light, etc. to create a sense of depth. The sense of depth is an important part of what I am trying to say. So you’re at least part way there with a blurry background – that’s an end. The wolf itself is the beginning. The middle can come from where you put the eye – to how you light the subject – from the angle of the head. It’s a bit easier to illustrate in a landscape setting.

  9. beginning: slightly blurry nose
    middle: tack sharp eyes
    end: blurry body and background

    btw scott, on one of the podscasts after your Alaska trip last summer, you spoke of picking your bear shot by setting up for the right background first, then taking the pictures as they entered your scene. That has really helped my composition since. I sometimes truly concentrate on the background (tone, simplification, bokeh, etc) more now than the subject. I’ve taken the photos with the identical subject, with different backgrounds, and it changes the picture by 90%.

  10. Thanks, Scott. I never thought of my photos in that way. Maybe you could help me figure this out, but it seems that a focus on these three elements might stop me somehow from getting a shot. For instance, when I shoot my son’s high school basketball games, I’m going for that mid-air action of him blocking or laying it up. How would beginning, middle, and end be thought of in this situation? It seems I’m too preoccupied with just getting the shot as fast as I can.

  11. Jerry it’s just a concept. In the case of basketball action – the background being blurred could again help – a scoreboard in the far distance, etc.

  12. Thanks Al it’s never been a big seller but it’s one of my favorites. I saw the big bull sitting in this clearing and noticed the trees in the background. Juxtaposing the two made for an interesting interplay on iteration.

  13. I remember hearing that background tip in the podcast too Geoff and have started to employ it myself in my burgeoning wildlife photography attempts. There are so many photos of one particular animal/bird, what distinguishes them I feel is the background/bokeh in the shot.

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