Use the rule of thirds.
Balance is related to, but distinct from, symmetry. A balanced image doesn’t necessarily look the same right-to-left or side-to-side. Rather, the various quadrants of the image complement each other in aesthetically pleasing ways. A viewer’s eye will likely scan the picture, looking for a point of interest and something else in dialogue with that point — an obvious subject might be balanced on the other side of the image by negative space. “If you have a really complicated photo with a lot of stuff going on, it can cause us to respond by drawing parallels,” says Long, “which can be kind of invigorating, confusing, and aggravating in a good way.”
Work with leading lines, focus, and depth of field.
Photography flattens three dimensions into two. In order to preserve a feeling of space and dimensionality, a photographer has to be aware of what’s in a shot and how they’re focusing on it.
Leading lines are visual elements that pull the viewer’s eye toward a subject or focal point. They can be anything — roads running off into the distance, an arm stretched out toward something else, tree branches rising toward the moon — anything that pulls attention toward something else. These lines can give flat surfaces the appearance of depth, dimension, and shape.
Focus and depth of field also add to the illusion of a third dimension within the photo. Shallow depth of field can give the viewer the impression that they’re focused on something immediately in front of them, and it provides a look of depth and scale, even in a flat photo.
Find the right point of view.
If you want to play with composition, move around. Simply changing perspective can mean the difference between a great photo and a conventional one.” All we’re doing is choosing to exclude things or include things,” says Long.
Play with your spacing and distance from your subject. “I move around a lot,” says Rivera. “I get really low or really high. I see what it’s like if I get under my subject or see what it’s like if they move side-to-side.” Get close, get far, and move to find how you want to frame your subject.
Lastly, when you’re composing a shot, keep in mind how the image is ultimately going to be used. “There might be text that goes over an image, or it might be a magazine cover,” says Rivera. Allow for those potential extra elements when you’re lining up the shot, and try to conceptualize them while you look through your viewfinder.
Improve composition with post-production cropping.
If the composition of a photo is a little off, it’s often possible to improve it in post-production with a quick crop. A photo might not frame the subject in an optimal way. But, just by moving the edge of the frame, you can often find a good image within a mediocre one.
When going through old images, try looking at them from a different angle or perspective. “Play with the rotation of the image,” says Rivera. “When you do a crop you can rotate it, flip the image, or put it upside down and maybe see something else.”
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