16 Examples of Powerful Compositions and What You Can Learn From Analyzing Photos

2019 has just begun, and it is time to wrap up and look back at 2018. Like last year, I have found my favorite photos, and what they have in common are strong compositions.

Reviewing your own photos can teach you a lot about your shooting style, but also what conditions work for making photos you relate to yourself. We all know that the golden hour delivers the best light and therefore, the best photos, or does it? Going through my favorite photos of 2018 was hard and surprising. The biggest surprise to me was how I only had four out of 16 photos that benefited from the golden hour light. I had equally many that were taken in broad daylight.

Most of the photos, however, do benefit from a “special” kind of light. Whether they are bright and dramatic or calm and moody, the light did play an important role to create contrast and shape in the photos.

What also played an important role was interesting weather. This obviously goes hand in hand with light and clouds helped a lot in shaping the light of the scene.

Sometimes, the weather just delivered relatively flat light, and the subject and composition had to do all the work to make the photo work. Sometimes, flat light is actually preferable.

That is actually an important realization. You can have interesting weather and you can have gorgeous light, but if you do not have an interesting subject and composition, you might as well trash the photo.

How I Normally Build Up a Photo

There are many ways to approach composition. How I go about it is to find an interesting subject or object I want to photograph that can work as the focal point. This could be a tree, mountain, house, or whatever you find interesting.

Depending on the subject being near or far away, I create depth in the photo by adding some foreground interest or an interesting background. The foreground can either be a subject in itself or something that creates leading lines or visual flow leading into the scene and focal point.

From here, I try my best to balance the scene. If I place my focal point in the upper left part of the photo, I can balance it out by placing the foreground in the lower right. I could also line up the foreground and background and make a strong central composition.

The last thing is to make sure my edges are clean. Clutter along the edges can often distract from the focal point. If I cannot do this in the field, I normally get rid of edge clutter in post-processing.

Even though I normally approach a scene or subject like this, it is always interesting when I have to break away from that way of thinking. I had to do that on a few occasions in 2018, and some of these photos made it into my favorites.

Check out the videos where I analyze 16 of my favorite photos from 2018 and talk about the compositions.

Have you gone through and analyzed your photos from 2018? What did you learn? Share your thoughts down below.

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Hans Gunnar Aslaksen's picture

another great article! my own favourite photo is not taken yet 🙌🏻

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you, Hans! I certainly hope so too that my favorite photo is still in the future ;)

Dan Zafra's picture

Great article and video Mads! Good to remember and show how important composition is to improve the visual impact of our images and to define our own style.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you, Dan. Yeah, it is very essential :)

Aritz Atela's picture

Indeed composition is an essential pillar when creating an image. Your pics always have a strong and stunning work on composition making then unique and special. Awesome article my friend.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you for the very kind words, Aritz 👊😁

Lorin Duckman's picture

You filled my requirement of a thoughtful article a day, today, as you do many days.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you, Lorin! Happy to hear that :)

Loved this. Really explained in depth the aspects of composition other than 'golden ratio' or 'rule of thirds'

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Yes, I think those "rules" are overhyped and the easy way to get around it as a teacher.

"You can have interesting weather and you can have gorgeous light, but if you do not have an interesting subject and composition, you might as well trash the photo." - the converse is also true and happens way more often in my experience (think iconic shots without having the light and/or weather for it). An exotic subject cannot make up for the lack of light, but a seemingly boring subject can make for an awesome picture, given the right kind of light.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Yeah, but I would argue you still need a proper composition despite the good light. But I agree good light lifts it up, as good light is part of the composition :)

Dave Terry's picture

The first one in the lineup is probably my favorite from this video (about to watch the second one). But I also really like the 6th one (if I counted right) is also cool in a subtle way. I like how the large cloud in the center casts a large shadow over what might have been a more central element in a different composition, but here it helps create a sense of massive depth in the distant between the the person silhouetted against the green and the mountains far in the distance.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you for such kind words, Dave :)