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A Tad Overwhelmed? Don't Be.

A casual search is all it takes to put together a lengthy list of rules for good composition. If you're looking to improve your photography, it can seem a tad overwhelming.

There are rules for where to position your subject in the frame and where not to. But it's not like you can move that tree a few feet to the left or anything. There are limits. And besides, such details are generally noticed after the fact, anyway.

There are rules that advise leaving some open space, so the picture doesn't look crowded. But other sources say you should make the entire frame count. But attempting to do both together can make you feel as if being pulled in two directions at once.

You're supposed to ensure that everything is sharp. Ever since Ansel Adams, this has become the standard for professional photography. But even in landscape photography, you can also find guidance on using selective focus to let viewers know what's important. Or maybe everything is important? If all these experts can't agree on optimal focus, that's one thing. But how are you supposed to decide if they can't?

It's good to have a "leading line" to provide a pathway into your image. But it's bad to have anything cut off by the edge of the frame. Something cut by the frame looks to have been an accident. It should either be consciously in the frame or left out entirely. But a leading line breaks that rule. Well, that's clear.

Recommendations from one noted may author suggest using bold, contrasting colors to grab attention. But another source you know and generally trust says to use softer tones for a pastel, painterly look. It's not like you can do both at the same time. Who's advice do you want to follow?

Let's face it. Modern cameras have made it easy to take pictures. More people than ever own some form of camera. I'm betting a lot of you probably have a phone with a camera in your pocket right now. It's a simple click of the button to take a picture today. But it can get complicated if you want to learn how to stand out from the rest.

My first recommendation would be to focus on your enjoyment first and let the rest follow. It at least seems possible that you would find photography even more satisfying if you got more winning shots. Before you know it, you'll find yourself all the motivation you need to take the next step.

Don't try to follow more than two rules at the same time. Attempting to juggle too many balls would violate my first recommendation. I'll wait here if you want to re-read my previous paragraph. You want to focus your enjoyment, not block it.

Don't be afraid to let your feelings about a possible shot guide you on the rest, even if you haven't thought about why you feel that way. All those rules are just ways of explaining why certain things look better. Composition isn't an intellectual exercise. It's about making better-looking images.

When you get back home, spend some time getting to know your results. Over time, you should start to notice that you're following some composition "rules" without even realizing it. How about that? Everything lines up on the thirds-lines exactly, even though you didn't try to? I always love noticing stuff like that in my images.

Feel free to make up your own composition rules. As long as you have some organizing principle guiding your choices, and you like what you see, others probably will as well. And yes, you're probably following some of the better-known rules anyway. Over time, it becomes second nature.

For this, you do get credit if you see it in your work after the fact. That's cool.

Date posted: January 16, 2022


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