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Beginner's Guide to Photography -Composition No.4

Updated on October 30, 2017
Dave Proctor profile image

Dave is a experienced professional photographer, now semi-retired and living the high life in sunny Spain


A common factor that ruins a lot of photographs is when there is something in the background that detracts the viewer or just plain ruins the picture and composition.

The latest trend for photo-bombing is a major headache, but can normally be dealt with (without recourse to violence), but unless spotted can easily ruin your photographs.

A rubbish bin, a toilet, a nosy neighbour wondering what you are doing, what ever it is, it is the photographer's job to take account of these unwanted elements and eliminate them from the picture.

Personally I do not like cloning stray items out of the pictures, I prefer to have the original image without the extraneous items in the picture.

There are times when it is unavoidable that the background to your photograph is not good, but by moving position or altering your depth of field so that background objects are out of focus, you can go a long way to cleaning up your backgrounds.

In the following photograph, the ape was sat on a roadway. By crouching down to the ape's height and taking the picture on a wide aperture (and so diffusing the background), I think I have achieved a very natural shot without anything distracting the subject matter.

Barbary Ape, Gibraltar
Barbary Ape, Gibraltar

Here are some further examples of where I have 'lost' the shot owing to the background

Once you notice the rubbish bin, you cannot ignore it.
Once you notice the rubbish bin, you cannot ignore it.
Some times, you just have to go with it and hopefully crop people out
Some times, you just have to go with it and hopefully crop people out
Please move the Sound Technician.....
Please move the Sound Technician.....


Here is an easy to achieve way of concentrating the viewers attention on the subject matter.

You can frame the subject using an available surround, This could be anything, a stone arch, a gate, a tree, through bushes, just look around you and use your imagination!

Here are a couple of examples:

A friend's villa (for their rental advertising)
A friend's villa (for their rental advertising)
The village, where I live!
The village, where I live!


How many times have you been shown a photograph of say a football match (normally on a camera phone) and in the picture you will have a huge number of players and you look and you cannot see any of their features, they are that small in the frame, and the person showing you the picture then proudly points out that the little one at the back is his off-spring.

People who want photographs of their children invariably want the photograph to show their child to the exclusion of all others (going back to Section 1 when we asked why we were taking the photograph)

It is just not in sports photography, in many types of photography the impact of the picture can be enhanced by zooming in and invariably you can zoom in far further than you think you can and still retain the context and the story of the picture!

In portraits, zooming in can also enhance the intimacy of the photography, you actually feel that the subject is reacting to you, personally.

Take a look at this photograph of an artist, Ok I took this photograph, having just bought one of his paintings, but everyone who has seen this picture relates to this gentleman and feels he is smiling for them personally:

The intimacy of this photo, immediately relates this man's warmth and friendliness
The intimacy of this photo, immediately relates this man's warmth and friendliness
And here is our Rock n Roll singer again, see how tightly I have zoomed in on this image, without losing the message and the context
And here is our Rock n Roll singer again, see how tightly I have zoomed in on this image, without losing the message and the context

The same theory can also be applied to landscapes, look at the three picture below and see how much more interesting the pictures become with each stage

Give them room to move

Whilst this does seem at odds with the above subject, it is important when we are taking moving objects that we give them room to move.

If you have someone who is racing along and their nose is hard against the edge of the frame it just looks plain odd.

You should try to give them enough room to move into

Again here are some examples:

He may not move very quickly but at least he has got room to move!
He may not move very quickly but at least he has got room to move!

Break the Rules

I could show you many photographs that break virtually every single rule that this Guide to Composition has told you.

Does that make them bad photographs?

Rules of Composition should not actually be called 'rules', I think of them as if they are more like guidelines.

Get them right and they can enhance a picture, get them wrong and you are taking a risk that the viewer may think some thing is wrong with the picture.

Be your own Critic

One of the best ways to improve your own photography is to be your own worst critic.

Take any of your pictures and look at it and ask your self firstly, is it technically correct?

  • Is the exposure right for the picture?
  • Is the depth of field right?
  • Is the picture in focus?

Then take a look at the Composition and ask yourself, what could you have done to improve this picture?

  • Could you perhaps have changed position to get a more interesting shot?
  • Could you have zoomed in or out more?
  • Could you have used a frame?
  • Could you have got a better background?
  • Does the image convey the story you want to tell?
  • Is this the photograph I wanted?

Once you have done this numerous times with your own pictures you will then start critiquing other people's photographs.

Personally I got into criticizing my own photographs after I had entered a couple of Competitions at my local Photographic Society. I soon got annoyed at hearing the judge's comments, which, with hindsight , were so obvious and I should have recognised the faults in the pictures before submitting them!


Thanks for reading my guides, I hope you have learnt something and hopefully made you more enthusiastic about photography.

Please feel free to comment, feedback is always good.

I will be writing further articles on photography in due course, so please keep your eyes open for them

Cheers and enjoy your photography


© 2017 Dave Proctor


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