Thinking Differently About Composition


I don’t remember if it was David Hobby (Strobist) or Joe McNally who said that when they were shooting for newspapers, they would always use the same lighting technique: camera in right hand, flash in left hand. That led to the same lighting pattern over and over again. So it took some thought to begin setting up a light on the right hand side of a subject.

It’s kind of like that for composition, I think. If you are used to doing one technique; be it lighting, shooting or editing, you fall into a routine. This  isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can lead a beginning photographer to discover their style. But it’s also a good exercise to break out of your routine and try something new.

Not too long ago, I was hired to shoot a couple of houses. I thought it would be a standard shoot until I arrived at the first house. The client said he was looking for something more creative; not necessarily showing the whole room. It turned out to be a fun and challenging shoot because I had to approach each shot in a different mind frame.


The shot above, for example, is not one I would have normally taken; but I rather like the compositional elements. The homeowner specifically mentioned the sculpture on the right. On the left, the pattern and vertical lines of the wrought iron door anchor the image. In the middle distance, you can see a sitting area and the dining area in the background adds depth.

A front door and staircase

At the second house, the client wanted to emphasize the detail work above the doorway. I didn’t want to just take a picture of the door, so I thought I’d make it interesting by showing the spiral staircase. The dramatic curve plays nicely against the horizontal and vertical lines outside.


In this last image, I think the angle of the staircase leads the viewer’s eye to the living area. The vertical line of the wall makes a good dividing point between the left and right side of the image.

Obviously all these examples are of interiors and architecture. If you are a wedding or portrait photographer, you might try using negative space. Or use the environment around your subject to frame them. The point is, break out of your comfort zone. It’s going to take a little forethought before you even look through the viewfinder, but you might be pleasantly surprised at the result.


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