5 Essential Composition Tips in Photography

Photography is not possible without composition– don’t miss out on these 5 essential photography composition tips:



What is composition?

Golden rectangle composition, from Free PDF : Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Street Photography

What is composition?

Golden triangle analysis for Downtown LA, side face tattoo.

The first question we must ask ourselves: What is composition, and why is it important?

This is how I would define composition:

Composition is how you arrange visual elements within a frame.

Why is composition important?

Golden triangle x Cindy minimalist composition
Golden triangle x Cindy. ERIC KIM Minimalist composition

Composition is important because you create MEANING by how you frame your subjects, how you juxtapose different visual elements together, and by deciding what you include (and exclude) form the frame.

How to make better compositions

Bauhaus Fibonacci spiral
Bauhaus Fibonacci spiral by ANNETTE KIM

Generally with composition– to make better compositions:

  1. Simplify your scene
  2. Add dynamism to your frame (tilting your camera with dutch angle, add interesting hand-gestures, or eye contact)
  3. Increase figure-to-ground or contrast in your frame


eric kim photography black and white hanoi-0009910 spiral fibonacci shell

5 Dynamic Composition Tips

An overview of 5 dynamic composition tips you can add to your photography:

1. Diagonals

With diagonals, you add more engagement, dynamism, and tension in your frame.

Diagonal composition photography tips

How can you easily capture better diagonal compositions?

  • Tilt your camera to the left or right
  • Look for diagonals in the background, and wait for your subject to enter the frame
  • When you’re shooting, look at the edges of the frame, and try to connect diagonals to the edges of your frame.

2. Perspective

Photography is all a matter of perspective— how you see the world, what you decide to photograph (and what you decide not to photograph), as well as how you compose your scenes.

The basic two perspectives:

  • Low Angle Perspective: Shot with your camera/lens close to the ground, looking up
  • High Angle Perspective: Shot on top of a roof, building, or with your camera up in the air, looking down

Which perspective is best?

There is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ perspective in photography. They are just different.

But what you should ask yourself is:

Which perspective is more dynamic and interesting?

Low Angle Perspective

To achieve a low-angle perspective, you can simply crouch down, and look up.

The benefits of low-angle perspectives is that you make your subjects look ‘larger than life’. This perspective is also unique– it is like seeing the world from the eyes of a child, or of an ant.

Low-angle perspectives work well in architecture photography, and street photography.

To make more dynamic low-angle perspective photos, I recommend using a 28mm or 35mm lens.

High Angle Perspective

High angle perspectives is when you get very high, and shoot looking down.

High angle perspectives work well when you want to make your subjects look very small, or make your scenes look more abstract.

How to shoot from a high angle perspective

  • Get on top of a rooftop, and shoot looking down
  • Hold your camera high in the air with your arm extended, and point your camera downwards, and shoot by framing with your LCD screen
  • Tippy-toe and shoot high, looking down.

3. Curves

Curves are even more dynamic than diagonal lines. Curves simulate nature– and have more energy.

You can imagine curves in the shell of a nautilus, curves in the road, curves in a woman’s body, or curved rivers, or the curved veins of a leaf.

Whenever you see a curve, follow it.

I find curves a lot in architecture photography — where a lot of architects follow the ‘fibonacci spiral‘.

And try to get the edges of the curve to connect to an edge of your frame.

4. Clean background

To make a better composition in photography, you need clear separation between your subject and the background. This is called ‘figure to ground‘ in photography.

One of the best ways to make a better composition in photography is to first start with a simple background, then add your subject in the frame afterwards.

A simple background can be a simple white/black wall, a brick wall, or the blue sky.

If you’re shooting portraits, start off by identifying a simple background, and asking them to stand in front of the simple background.

You can also simplify your background by putting your subject in bright light, and use -1 or -2 exposure-compensation, to cause your subject to ‘pop’ out of the frame.

Furthermore, try out the ‘fishing technique‘ in street photography:

  1. Find an interesting/simple background
  2. Wait for your subject to enter the frame
  3. Click when they’re in the right spot

5. Clean edges

One of the easiest ways to simplify our photos:

When you are shooting, make sure the edges of your frame are clean.

Don’t get tunnel-visioned in the center of the frame. Rather, look at the edges. Get closer to your subject, to fill the frame with your subject, and also try to connect diagonal lines to the edges of your frame.

Concluding thoughts on composition

Composition must be one of our most important pre-occupations in photography– as Henri Cartier-Bresson once said.

In photography, it is hard to shoot and compose at the same time.

My simple suggestion:

When you’re shooting, always seek to simplify the frame.

You won’t always see all the diagonals, curves, and think about the perspective.

Contact sheet for Cindy eyes, and trees in background. Lisbon, 2018
Contact sheet for Cindy eyes, and trees in background. Lisbon, 2018

Remember– the purpose of photography is capturing the soul of your subject. Use composition as a tool to judge your compositions after the fact.

Have fun,


Learn more about composition

Cindy eyes, and trees in background. Lisbon, 2018
Cindy eyes, and trees in background. Lisbon, 2018

For more information on composition, read: Photography Composition 101, and these articles:

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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
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