PRACTICAL EXERCISES in Composition – Steve Wallace

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1. Point of Interest

Choose a scene involving one dominant subject against a plain background. As an example a figure sitting on grass viewed from above would be suitable. Take four or five shots with the dominant subject positioned in the frame according to the Rule of Thirds, but in a different position each time. Later you can decide and we can discuss which is the most pleasing shot and why.

The position of the main point of interest within a composition is critical to the success of the composition. For most subjects central placement is too symmetrical to be interesting. At the other extreme subjects close to the edge of the frame appear awkward and can leave large areas of the frame with no interest at all. A location with a ratio of 1:2 (The Rule of Thirds), both horizontally and vertically, is generally the most successful.

2. Secondary Points

Choose a scene with two subjects against a simple background and position the camera to make one the main point of interest and the other into a secondary point of interest.

Part of a photographer’s task is to control the viewer’s eye, to draw it to the main point of interest and then to control movement of the eye to any secondary point all the time keeping the eye within the frame.

3. Horizontal and Vertical

Take any suitable subject and devise two satisfactory compositions, one horizontal and one vertical, using the full frame of the 35mm.

A horizontal format is the most natural format to us due mainly to our normal vision where our eyes move most easily from side to side when scanning a scene. The significance of the horizon to our visual experiences is another factor. A third factor for photographers is that most cameras are designed to be operated mainly in the horizontal position.

A conscious effort needs to be made to create images in the vertical format that is not awkward or uncomfortable for the viewer to look at.

Bear in mind the importance of the position of the point of interest in both the horizontal and vertical frames.

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4. Frame within a Frame

Photograph two or three scenes where the subject is contained within an interior frame that is itself inside the camera frame. For one subject use a door or a window while for any others try more creative foreground elements as frames.

A frame enhances the dimensionality of a photograph by drawing the viewer through from one plane to another. An internal frame imposes a measure of control preventing the image and the viewer’s eye from flowing over the edges of the picture.

5. Placing the Horizon

Using a horizontal format and clouds or foreground elements to balance the image take a series of photos that place the horizon in various positions in the frame.

A low horizon will give a sense of open space while a low horizon will produce a more confined impression with more significance taken by the foreground elements. A central position will be the most difficult to produce a satisfactory feeling. The use of the Rule of Thirds to place the horizon 1/3 from the bottom or 1/3 down from the top should also be experimented with.

6. Patterns

Photograph both natural and manufactured patterns. Carefully consider the size of the pattern and the viewpoint in the composition.

Camera to subject distance will have a major effect on the way the patterns is portrayed – large elements repeated only a few times within the frame or small elements with lots of occurrences. Differing viewpoints of the same pattern will provide experience in how the appearance of the pattern can be controlled.

When looking for patterns remember that colour will be reproduced as grey tone and how important the type and angle of the lighting can be on a pattern.

7. Perspective and Depth

Look for scenes that will enable you to practice the control of perspective using any or all of the methods below.

Converging Lines is a common and readily acceptable method of portraying depth. A standard, or wide angle, lens will possibly be the most successful. Bear in mind that horizontal surfaces leading away from the camera should in general stay within the frame and not lead the viewer’s eye out of the frame.

Distance Haze, also known as aerial perspective, portrays depth by the weakening of the distant elements of the image due to the fact that the greater amount of atmosphere scatters more light.

Diminishing Perspective is seen when similar sized objects at differing distances from the camera produce increasingly smaller images the further away from the camera they are. (eg electricity poles along a road)

Steve’s top 10 tips of Composition

  1. Show One Subject Clearly – A photo with one dominant subject will be a stronger photo..  A single subject may be a group of people or objects
  2. Fill the Frame with the Subject – A subject large enough to dominate the photo will hold the viewers attention.  Look for unnecessary foreground.
  3. Simplify the Background – Cluttered backgrounds will weaken your photos.  Change the camera angle to eliminate distractions.
  4. Place the Subject off Centre – Central subjects tend to be boring – use the Rule of Thirds.  Central placement is appropriate for some subjects.
  5. Look for unusual Viewpoints – Don’t take all photos standing at your full height with the camera at eye level.
  6. Vary your Subjects – Don’t become stuck in a rut – try different subjects.  When at a location capture all the possibilities that are there.
  7. Take Charge – When conditions permit change things to give you the best result.  Don’t be passive – become involved.
  8. Take extra Pictures – Take several shots of a scene that appeals.  Try to make each one the best one of that subject.
  9. Watch the Light – The light on the subject controls how it will appear.  Choose light conditions, which give you the best result.
  10. Experiment – Don’t be bound by rules – if you wish to try it then do so.

    Steve’s Links – Composition on the World Wide Web


    The following list of Websites and their URL’s has been produced to enable you to look at a range of approaches to composing your images

  1. Rule of Thirds:

The rule of thirds is by far the best known composition rule. If you divide the photo into thirds, place objects where the thirds cross.

  1. Guidelines for Better Photographic Composition

Guidelines for Better Photographic Composition. Lessons in Composition for the Amateur Photographer by Dale Cotton

  1. KODAK:Beginnings of Photographic Composition

Guidelines for Better Photographic Composition. Simplicity, The Rule of Thirds. Lines,

  1. Digital Photography Composition Tips

We are constantly updating our site with new tips on composition and other related photographic topics. 

  1. Nature Photography Instruction – Composition

In its simplest definition, a composition is a combination, or arrangement, of elements. A photographic composition is the arrangement of visual elements

Party 1—

Party 2—

  1. Photographic Composition

How to master the art of photographic composition.

7 Photography Questions – Podcasts

Interviews with top photographers to improve YOUR photographs

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