Why can’t I just point the camera and shoot?  In reality, I suppose you can.  But if you’re even remotely interested in capturing that spectacular shot, why not jump into this discussion and see where it takes you.

In the world of art, composition has been a topic of discussion for centuries.  From the ancient Greeks to present-day digital photographers, the age-old question that must be answered is, “What looks ideal?”

The photograph I’m using to demonstrate composition is the same photograph I use as my header.  I captured this shot in Avila beach, California.


  • The first element of composition is positioning or perspective.  Which angle is best for this shot?  Ansel Adams once said, “Good photography is about knowing where to stand.”  The most common enemy of composition is impatience.  You should always examine the scene you want to photograph to determine where best to position yourself relative to your subject and the direction of the light.  Before I fired the shutter here, I walked up and down the beach to visualize the best perspective.  Consider how your angle aligns other elements within the frame.  Look for distracting objects you can omit by changing your perspective.  In this shot, I wanted the pier to be the focal point because of the symbolistic journey it portrayed.  There were people in the frame at certain perspectives, but I continued to move until I was able to shoot from an angle without the distraction of people.  I hope you’ll comment on each aspect.  Have I presented this scene from a good perspective?
  • The second element is Balance.  Your photo is more than just your main subject.  Balance is about finding the best placement of all the elements in the frame relative to each other.  A balanced composition is one where all of these are in harmony.  To draw attention to a particular area, make sure it stands out from the other elements so the eye is drawn to this element first.  You can accomplish this with placement, size, or color.  In this shot, your eye is drawn to the pier because of its placement – beginning in the foreground and continuing diagonally through the frame.  But at the same time, make sure that one side of the frame is not disproportionately heavier than the other.  The Rule of Thirds can help you with balance.  In this photo, is the hill on the right somewhat balanced by the waves on the left?  And since the pier actually extends into the left third of the frame, does it also help to balance the hill on the right?
  • The final element is Boundaries.  This is the stage where you determine what remains in the frame and what does not.  Whether you’re cropping in camera or after shooting, you should pay close attention to the borders of the frame.  Make sure they do not cut through important elements and that no unintended elements such as shadows peek in.   What are your thoughts as to the boundaries of this shot.  Honestly, this photo was cropped into a panoramic format to adhere to the blog template.  Does the panoramic shot work?

I hope you’ll contribute to this post with your comments.  Don’t be afraid if you disagree with someone’s comment, or if someone disagrees with yours.  I just want to encourage you to contribute so we can all profit.  So, is the composition good here?  If so, why?  If not, what could have been changed?  Let me encourage everyone to jump into this discussion.

In the end, no rule will guarantee a beautiful image, and some of the most successful photographs blatantly defy the rules.  But learning and practicing these simple guidelines will drastically increase the possibilities of a spectacular shot.

Remember the ultimate test of any composition is to step back, look at the scene, and ask yourself, “Does this work?”  If the answer is “yes,” then push the shutter.

Don’t forget to cast your vote for your favorite shot of the week.  Each shot is numbered.  You may vote by leaving a quick comment with the number of your favorite.

Thanks for stopping by.  I’ll see you next time.


~ by photographyfree4all on September 1, 2010.


  1. This was helpful to me. I’ve been interested in photography for a couple of years, but only seriously lately, and these are things I always think about. Some good food for thought!


  2. Thanks for stopping by, jolene. I’m glad this helped. Your photosare great! Keep shooting. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll come by again, soon.


  3. It’s a lovely shot – I also like the balance bottom to top on the horizontal. Interestingly I wanted to see the start of the pier, since it is a journey out to a spot I can’t see clearly from this perspective. The clouds provide a nice mid-point balance too.

    Only a panoramic aspect could have captured all that balance. 🙂

    Do we vote on Friday?


  4. Thanks for your kind words, Dawn. And thank you for adding your thoughts about the composition. I hope others will add to what you’ve already said. You can vote anytime. Just add the number of your favorite to any post. Thanks for stopping by.


  5. To answer your title question – Because only a TOURIST would point and shoot but a PHOTOGRAPHER compose before shooting. I’m sure you know which one you are 😉


  6. You know before you asked I thought the image in your header was perfect. I love the leading line of the pier, the anchoring horizontals of the waves breaking on the left and the far pier as well as the lovely shape of the green hill and the puffy clouds giving interest to the sky.

    But since you did ask, I looked at it larger and found that I was drawn to the pylons in the right foreground wishing I could see the ground that they stood on, pulling my eye out of the image there. Minor. But since you asked…

    And it’s all so subjective.


  7. Dawn, I wanted to add that the beginning of the pier was cluttered with people. The clutter was one of the reasons I changed my position. Thanks, again, for stopping by.


  8. HA! Thanks for your humorous, but truthful response! I’m glad you stopped by today, Emily. Come by again, soon!


  9. Don’t feel badly for offering your perspective of the shot, Missusk. I certainly don’t. There is a reason, though. There were several people milling around the beach below the pier. I believe I would have included some of the beach area like you mentioned if that were not the case. At least, I probably would have shot both angles and determined in processing if it was presentable. Thanks for your additional comments early on your post! I’m glad you stopped by and joined the conversation.


  10. This is a nice post, well done! I think that composition is as crucial to good images as anything else, including the subject.
    I have often been accused of ignoring certain “rules” of composition, but it’s not that I want to do these things, it’s just how I see the scene and want to shoot it 🙂
    To each his own I guess.


  11. I think that, as a blog header, that image is almost perfect for me. All the things you’ noted are done very well – balance and perspective are great. Personally, I quite like photos with more extreme angles. An additional photo you could’ve tried may be to have moved to the right a bit (closer to the bridge), and shoot down the pier, from next to it. Haha, I’m not sure if you know what I mean…

    Also, keep your photography tips coming! Before I started reading your blog, I’d just point and shoot, like you mentioned in your post, especially since I mainly use toy cameras like Holgas. Since reading these tips, though, I’ve been able to think about what a photo might look like before taking it, so thanks!


  12. Thank you for your kind words about this post, Michael. I appreciate your comment. Even when you consider its importance, composition rules can sometimes be ignored and a great shot is still produced. This has happened to me, as well. I’m trying to at least consider the rules and then make the decision to do something different, if I feel that will produce the best shot. I hope you’ll stop back again, soon!


  13. Thank you for your comment and contribution to this post, David! I do understand what you’re saying. I would have love to shoot more down the pier to determine if that shot would have been better. But, the presence of too many people prevented that. But, that was a great observation. I’m glad you thought of that option. I’m glad your finding tidbits of my posts that are helpful. Stop by again, soon! I’ll try to keep the helpful hints and tips coming. Thanks, David!


  14. I like the actural picture much more that what you have as a header. I assume there you have two separate pictures, but somehow when I look at it (the header) I feel like I have a pole right in front of me. Of course, I know that is the border between the two images, but it would have been nice to have the whole stitched panorama there. But that’s just me………


  15. I know what you’re saying, Bob. The template is designed to portray a series or suite aspect, I guess. I’m glad you commented about that. Thanks for stopping by and offering your perspective. I hope you’ll come back again, soon!


  16. These are great, simple, and effective tips that we should all review from time to time! 🙂 Thanks!


  17. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, FTL! Sometimes I catch myself becoming so excited at the scene, I just want to start shooting! On more than one ocassion, I’ve been disappointed by that sequence of events. I hope you’ll stop by again, soon.


  18. Good tips – I think the boundaries issue is very important – balance is but, unbalanced images can be dramatic (one of those rule breaker for me) if you are careful about distracting elements (but maybe that’s about balance too…)


  19. Thanks for this excellent comment. Rob. You’re right about boundaries. I’ve had countless shots ruined because of distractions creeping into the shot unawares! I’m glad you stopped by. Come back again.


  20. Wow, I love that shot!
    I almost always agree with your comments, but sometimes, you don’t have that much time to think of the best way to get a shot. I’ve gotten a lot of shots from a car because there’s no time to stop. You have a few seconds to anticipate it and then, see what happens. Oh yeah, and there’s always the rule of thirds (even if rules are made to be broken!) 🙂


  21. I agree with what your saying, Maestro. There are times when I don’t have time to think about anything. the scene presents itself so quickly, it’s either act now – or lose the shot! those are the times when you do the best you can and hope for the best. Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate your comment. I hope you’ll stop back again, soon.


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