We all know that composition is a very hot and controversial topic that can be tackled in many ways. I am not going to deal with all the techniques that can be found all over the internet. However, I recommend this article from Petapixel providing all the composition rules with some very good examples. Instead, I am providing you with 7 practical photography tips that will help you improve your composition.
What I am dealing with here is the field experience. This will bring a lot of added value to your future photography in addition to all the composition techniques that you may know or that are mentioned if the above article.
#1 - Experience and practice
The number one rule to master composition is practice. This will help you gain experience and become more and more successful.
Practice goes from looking at other photographers who inspire you until practicing on the field as often as possible and try new tricks. In the first case, you need to understand how professional photographers manage to captivate your attention and what makes them technically good. In the second case, you'll need to try and replicate what inspires you and ultimately you'll manage to develop your own style.
Of course, you'll not always have the perfect pictures. You may even sometimes be disappointed but that's part of the experience. Also, don't think that experienced photographers always have perfect shots on their memory cards, they also make poor shots. In fact, we all do. Professional just make less of them.
#2 - Live view is good but viewfinder is better
I often use the live view on my camera as it is easy to use and does not require me to get into crazy positions to frame my photographs. And who cares after all, post processing can help in leveling, cropping and removing all unwanted artefacts in the pictures. Although these are all great advantages of today's technology, if you would have had spent more time on the field to look into your viewfinder some of these adjustments may not have been necessary. Having the eye stuck in the live view will help you frame your picture exactly as you want it, and you'll enjoy having a perfectly framed shot straight out of your camera. In addition, not having to adjust your picture will allow to keep your picture at full size which can be non negligible if you’re planning on printing.
#3 - Don't neglect the power of post processing
I know, I just said that good framing on-site will save you some time on post processing. That's completely true but, sometimes you may have missed something unwanted in your frame or realized that the composition is slightly unbalanced. As you realize this, some cropping of your shot or leveling may give more meaning to your shot. So, try to get it right from the beginning but not everything is lost if you're disappointed about a shot you thought would be great.
#4 - Set up your camera
That should be one of the first things you do on your camera: set up the composition supporting tools that your camera offers. The two things that I personally keep always turned on on my camera are the level which helps me get leveled pictures (how obvious…) and the rule of third grid which can always be helpful to balance a picture.
#5 - Understand how your eyes work
Did it ever happen to you that you saw something fantastic and that the pictures you took of it looked empty? That's probably because you do not realize that a photograph is far to reflect what you see. But no worries, it's not too late. The key here is that although humans have an 180 degrees vision, their eyes are focusing on a narrow subject forgetting all its surrounding. And this is especially true in wide landscapes therefore, you should always try to understand what attracts your vision so that you try to capture exactly this. You will then soon realize that isolating what attracts your eyes in your frame will make your pictures way more powerful than they used to be.
#6 - Focus on fewer but better shots
As you get on location for a nice sunrise or sunset and see so many compositions possible we are often getting excited and want to catch them all. This is especially true if we are somewhere far from home where we may not get back soon or at all. That's understandable, however, this kind of behavior will likely lead to many disappointing shots as opposed to some good few shots. You better set yourself up at one spot and try to refine your composition until it is perfect. You will have much more satisfaction in looking at this perfect shot than multiple average one.
And believe even with the experience the temptation of running around is high. If you're far from home and want to optimize your shooting on site I would recommend to arrive early enough on-site or come the day before to figure out the composition you'd like to come back with or . But do not Co aider more than ¾ shots at most. Beyond that you'll end up rushing and mistaking your shots. And if you're close from home and have multiple composition opportunities, just focus on one or two shots each time. That way you'll rediscover this spot each time you go there.
#7 - Sometimes less is more
How often do we find ourselves in places where our wide angle lens seems to be helpless? That's when this rule applies. Here we are talking about minimalism. Some landscapes may look boring and a wide angle will emphasize this lack of subject in your pictures. Minimalism will be your ally in these situations. Focus on isolated subjects to give them some emphasis. The below example is a perfect example of minimalism that gives an interesting result. The wide angle picture was takee with a drone but has not been post-processed as opposed to the two others.
Hope that these tips will help you in the future.
About the Author: Rémi Bergougnoux is a landscape photographer based in Zürich, Switzerland and focused on nature.