Easy Composition Tips for Beginner Photographers

Easy Composition Tips for Beginner Photographers

When starting with photography, it is easy to be focused entirely on the technical side of the medium. However, paying close attention to your compositions is sure to bring your images to the next level.


Before diving into some tips on how to compose your images, let’s start with the very basics. What even is composition? Composition is simply the arrangement of elements used in an image. This generally means where your subject is in the frame compared to other things in the scene. 

The goal of a strong composition is usually to do one or two things. First, it should make it clear what the subject or focus of the image is. As a photographer, you can use your images to guide viewers to look at a specific thing. When a composition isn’t as successful, it may be because it is difficult to tell what the main subject is. Second, a strong composition should create a visual movement to lead the eye around the image. Taking an image in such a way that the different elements work together to move our eyes around the composition in a guided manner is a good way to ensure a strong image. Some images aim to achieve both of those goals, whereas at times, it may just be one or the other.

Rule of Thirds

The most talked-about tip for composition is the Rule of Thirds. It states that if you divide the image area into thirds both horizontally and vertically (like the image above) that the most important elements of the image should fall where those lines intersect or simply land on one of the lines. This holds for any subject you might be photographing. For portraits, putting the eyes or head of your subject at that intersection is usually best. For landscapes (or even other images that have a sort of horizon line), having the horizon line fall on one of the thirds is generally the way to go. 

You should notice that this means your subject will likely not be in the center of the frame. Putting your subject in the middle of the frame will limit how much the eye is led around the image, which makes it much less interesting and engaging. With the subject in one of the thirds of the image, it creates more visual movement across the composition. If you do center your subject, putting their most important features, such as their eyes, at one of the thirds will help your composition as well.

In this example, I centered my subject, but her eyes fall on the top third line.

It is worth saying, however, that in art, rules are meant to be broken. The Rule of Thirds isn’t always going to be the best way to compose an image. Sometimes, placing your subject and focal point dead center will be the way to go. But, as I always recommend, you have to know and understand a rule before you start breaking it. And, the Rule of Thirds will honestly be the best bet for a successful composition most of the time.

Leading Lines

Another common compositional tool is the use of leading lines. This can be used as a way to point to your subject, but it can also simply create movement, achieving either or both of the main goals of a strong composition. Leading lines are easy to work with. Roads, trails, or other such pathways are the most obvious ways to add in leading lines. Simply place your subject down a trail from you, and let the edges of the trail guide the viewer’s eye right to where you want it. 

That said, there are lots of other types of lines that you can use. Mortar joints of brick walls are another really common and easy-to-use setup. Even photographing down a bench can create great leading lines. Any sort of line that you can have leading towards your subject will work. Sometimes, the lines may be more implied than strong, physical lines. The important thing is to decide where in the frame you want viewers to look. Then, simply move yourself and the camera or perhaps the subject until you have lines leading in the correct way.

Pay Attention to the Edges

If cutting off part of your subject, make sure to do so rather substantially and purposefully. Otherwise, provide room around the subject to allow the viewer's eye to move around.

It is pretty common to pay close attention to what is in the middle or thirds of an image but forget about the edges. Every inch of your composition matters, and the edges can have a surprising impact on the quality of your composition. Cutting off a subject in an awkward spot or putting your subject too close to the edge of the frame can create tension or stop the flow of movement through the image, making an otherwise great composition less than ideal. Slowing down while you are shooting and looking around the viewfinder will help with this. And, cropping a perhaps problematic composition after the fact can take it from bad to great again. You can find more tips about the edges of the frame in a previous article.

Include a Foreground, Midground, and Background

This tip won’t work for every situation or image, but it is a useful tool for creating great depth when the circumstances call for it. To use this suggestion within a composition, feature something in the foreground, midground, and background. In the case above, the wall serves as the foreground in the bottom right corner, the top of the hill on the left is the midground, and the town in the distance is in the background. Having something in each of those three zones will lead the eye from the front to the back of the image and also give the appearance of more depth than if you just had one or two of those areas. 

Foreground Framing

When the tip above doesn't necessarily work for an image, but you still want to create depth, foreground framing is a great option. On top of creating depth, it can help to create movement and guide the eye to the subject in a different way than leading lines. Plus, it can create more interest and add a pretty dramatic mood to images if used in a specific way.

To use this tool, simply choose something close in the foreground, such as plants or a building, to partially frame your subject. Generally speaking, this works best with a shallow depth of field and the foreground out of focus. You don’t need the foreground object to fully encircle the subject, but having it at least on one side will create a lot of depth and movement. You can go overboard with this one, so be careful not to have too much out-of-focus foreground blocking the view.

Do you have any compositional tools that you love to use? Share in the comments if so!

Abby Ferguson, MFA's picture

Abby Ferguson is a portrait and conceptual photographer and educator based on Hawaii Island. She earned her Master of Fine Arts from Kansas State University and founded the photography program at a vacation rental company while in Denver. She is passionate about helping others learn both the technical and creative aspects of photography.

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Those are two great tips as well!


I appreciate you for using a straightforward title. The way you worded your title is not "clickbaitish" at all, and I really appreciate that.

The objective of a title should be to summarize what the article is about, NOT to get people to click on the article. In fact, it is unethical to write a title that is somewhat inaccurate just to generate page views. I respect you for not doing that,

Thank you!

How about, no photos with cloudless skies! hahaha