Photography Composition Articles


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composition basics - How to get good Pictures


Composition Basics

  1. Focus:  A shot in focus is crisp and clear, with good definition of object. Most digital cameras have automatic focus and manual focus. Selecting automatic focus allows you to get quick action photos. Selecting manual focus allows you to determine what you want in focus: background, foreground, usually a person's eyes, or one person in front of another. (See depth of field and camera instructions for focus). Some digital camera allows you to fill the frame with the foreground (a bush for example), press the shutter half way (locking the focus), then frame the shot with the background (playground for example) and take the picture. This would make the bush in focus and the playground out of focus. The reverse is also correct. Filling the frame with the playground and pressing the shutter release half way, composing the shot to include the bush, and taking the picture - would allow the background in focus and the bush out of focus. To keep the focus, stay the same distance from the subject as when you "locked" the focus.
  1. Depth: Photographs are two-dimensional. To make images more real and alive we try to give the illusion of depth. Helpful hints: avoid shooting people up against a wall, pull them away from the wall, have them stand with a room or field behind them. Light the subject or have them be the brightest object. Or, if you're shooting a building, shoot it at an angle (from the corner) and have some branches be in the shot - close, yet out of focus (to add an element of foreground depth). 

Foreground - the part of the photo that is closest to the camera - the branches in front of a park scene.

Background - the part of the photo that is farthest from the camera - the mountains behind a park scene.

* Either can be in focus and thus the point or reason for the photograph.

Avoid shadows across faces by putting light and reflected light on the front of the subject. See "lighting hints."


  1. Depth of Field: This is the portion of the photograph that is in clear sharp focus. How much of the picture is crisp? To get lots of the photo in focus have lots of light and have the subject farther away from the camera. You may want to have a shallow depth of field (only the subjects eyes in focus, for example) then you would decrease the light and move the subject closer to the camera.

Can you guess which part is the Depth of Field?

  1. Contrast: Variety adds to your photograph. The subject should be the lightest area of the screen because our eyes are drawn to light. The background behind them should be darker. Placing the sun behind you will assist you in getting good lighting.

  1. Exposure:  Exposure is the amount of light entering the camera.  A picture looks its best with proper light and exposure.  Usually the camera gives automatic exposure. As you get more comfortable with the camera, try manually controlling the lights and exposure to get the best pictures.
  1. Framing:  Fill the screen with the main object. Get a tight shot of your subject.

Notice how the Sunflower fills the shot.

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