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Single tired mom of four. Lover of chocolate and coffee - not necessarily in that order. Lover of Jesus, photographer by trade, Photoshop junkie and crime TV watcher.


RSS Hallie Westcott Photography

Through the Lens: Assignment 3 – Better Composition

July 27, 2008

There are certain rules to follow for good composition.   Some call them rules, but rules do not always leave room for creativity, so I am calling them guidelines.  Using these guidelines will help balance your photos and make them more pleasing to the viewer. 

Good composition allows the viewer’s eye to flow through the photograph naturally and is just as  important as good lighting. There are many different guidelines to follow that will drastically improve your photos, but let’s start with the Rule of Thirds.  Hey sorry, I didn’t name it.

The Rule of Thirds suggests that instead of placing your point of interest in the center of the frame,  you divide your photo into thirds, both vertically and horizontally and use the intersecting lines as a reference point to place your subject or points of interest.   Studies show that a person’s eye will first land on one of these intersecting points and not the center of the photo.  Maybe that’s because our eyes are not on our nose, either way, composition can make or break your photo. 

Here is an example using the rule of thirds…..well almost thirds, but you get the idea.



Another way to improve your composition is to rid yourself of those cluttered backgrounds.    Taking a photo with a lot of things going on in the background is distracting to the viewer.  Keep in mind, less is more.  To declutter, try moving around for a better angle or move in closer. 

The first photo below is an example of a very cluttered background.  The second image, with it’s simple background allows you to focus on the subject without distractions.  (Note that the first photo also breaks another rule/guideline of not cutting people off at the joints.  It is better to go below the knee or at the thigh and the same applies to the elbows.)



If you are bored with the same old composition, choose a different viewpoint.  Mix it up; get down at your subjects level, or lay on the ground and shoot up for a more interesting shot.  

When you think your close enough, get closer.  Fill the frame with your subject.  There is nothing more boring than looking at little Billy, who is the size of an ant on the photo and is surrounded by two plus miles of landscape.  Personally, I would rather see the expression on his face, the dirt on his hands and his messy hair.  The details are what tell the story and you can’t see those from far away.  So get close and remember, less is more.

See the impact the first photo below has over the second.



Lines add interest to a photo and can draw the eye in a specific direction or directly to your subject matter.  Lines can also add depth and motion to your composition.  Photograph a pathway, a bridge, a line of trees, or a winding road.  Diagonal, vertical, horizontal, curved….lines are awesome!



Look for the details.  At times the details have much more impact than the full subject.   Sometimes a throw away image can be turned into a keeper by finding the details.  A simple crop did this for the images below.



The last tip I will share with you is one of many I learned from Scott Kelby and possibly one of the most helpful.  If you don’t know what your subject is, don’t shoot the photo.   Your photo needs to have a focal point where the eye will come to rest; an area of interest that draws the viewer to that particular spot on the photo.  So decide what you are shooting at before you take the shot.

Now that you have reviewed some of the basic rules of composition, let’s learn how to break them!   Here is a great article at Digital Photography School about breaking the rules of composition.


Your Assignment:

Use the basic guidelines you have learned in this lesson and apply them to your photographs.  We have gone over eight guidelines to follow for good composition, so take at least eight photos using the techniques you have learned and post them to your blog.  Return here when you are finished and link to your post by signing Mr. Linky below.  The next assignment will be posted in three weeks.

You can join here: ThroughTheLens-DigitalPhotography101-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. After clicking this link, just send an email expressing your desire to join the group, or a blank email is fine also.

Photographic Inspiration:

Steve Paxton has some of the most dramatic photographs I have seen to date.  His series of urban portraits, The Least of These is simply amazing.  Steve photograph’s capture the lives of the homeless and overlooked with compassion and empathy, while giving dignity and care to those that have no place to call home. 

Steve also has some fabulous tutorials here, including information on urban portraits.

Digital frame by K. Pertiet


Assignment 1 – Getting to Know Your Camera

Assignment 2 – Understanding White Balance


  1. Amanda says:

    Thanks Hallie! I’m going to have fun with this assignment!

    July 28th, 2008 at 6:19 am

  2. Heather says:

    Me too :) … I’ve already begun thinking about composition and read through 2 of Scott Kelby’s books (he’s great BTW). We just returned from Disney World and I found myself paying more attention to what I was shooting with my camera. Thanks for all this Hallie! This assignment will be fun :)

    July 28th, 2008 at 7:00 am

  3. Heather says:

    p.s. from what I learned in the last assignment I was able to quickly assess white balance while we were on our trip and immediately knew what to do to change things, which is a big help when you’re at Disney World and and need to take photos fast in and out of the sunlight. I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn with this assignment :)

    July 28th, 2008 at 7:03 am

  4. We are THAT family says:

    I’m still reading and learning, but have gotten really behind with two back to back 10 day trips. Good stuff!

    July 28th, 2008 at 7:36 am

  5. carrie-the gremlin wrangler says:

    ack! that’s a lot to digest. I’ll have to take it in chunks this time.

    Great information, though! You rock!

    July 28th, 2008 at 6:36 pm

  6. Brian says:

    I’m looking forward to continuing working with what I learned in the previous assignment and continuing with composition. Actually, I already knew about the rule of thirds and have tried to apply it when possible. Sometimes it turns out to be a rule of quarters! Other than that, I’m ready to get started.

    Oh, and my blog at photoblog is new. Had I known it existed before, I would have started it sooner. I encourage everyone else to use it too. It’s nice because of the calendar – knowing when you took your photos. Flickr is nice because of the map – knowing where you took your photos. It would be nice if they merged so we could have both on one web site.

    July 28th, 2008 at 9:11 pm

  7. Nikowa says:

    Complete-This was the best! (Since we got to post more than one pic)

    July 29th, 2008 at 11:16 am

  8. MaryBeth @ Four Silly Sisters says:

    I am sorely behind on all the assignments… I’ve been reading and shooting using the info in the assignments, but haven’t posted any of the results yet on my blog or flickr. Is it too late to go back and use the linky thing for assignments one and two?!?

    July 29th, 2008 at 10:47 pm

  9. Brian says:

    Assignment 3 is done. I’ll continue to work with the various techniques, um, until I quit taking pictures! This was quite a bit of fun. I especially liked the “Breaking the Rules” part. Has anyone else tried the camera toss, yet? Be careful if you do!

    July 31st, 2008 at 9:46 pm

  10. Jenn4him says:

    I got mine done. This was a great assignment. It really made me stop and think before taking a picture. Thank you!

    August 1st, 2008 at 3:53 pm

  11. Dawn @ My Home Sweet Home says:

    You’ve done an excellent job with this. Good work! I’ve got to go beyond taking pictures, and actually submit them for the assignments. Good idea, huh?

    My white balance shots were under and umbrella, so I’m thinking I need to redo them. What do you think?

    August 4th, 2008 at 10:11 pm

  12. JoAnn says:

    This assignment was really hard for me, and I wasn’t sure if I would do it. But I gave it a try, I hope I understood the ‘rules’ o.k. :)

    August 5th, 2008 at 8:26 pm

  13. Beth says:

    I enjoyed this lesson very much. I have learned a lot about composition that I had never thought about before. I’m not sure I am artistic enough to apply the rules well yet, but I hope to have fun trying. Thanks.

    August 13th, 2008 at 2:39 pm

  14. Doris says:

    Great assignment! Thanks Hallie, you don’t know what enjoyment I’ve received from this online workshop. Just let me say “there’s people who’d pay for this”. You don’t have to be an expert to teach, just have a passion & some knowledge of your subject. I finally finished my blog spot, so that I can post to it versus photolog, which I found to be impersonal and limiting as far as being able to say much about the photos. I enjoy checking out everyone else’s photos, there’s talent out there!

    August 17th, 2008 at 3:40 pm

  15. ~Heather says:

    Hallie – I really enjoyed this assignment and I’m looking forward to the next one :)

    August 18th, 2008 at 9:52 am

  16. Amanda says:

    I’m done. Finally. Better late than never right? LOL

    Thanks Hallie!

    August 28th, 2008 at 6:51 am

  17. Through the Lens: Better Composition | My Home Sweet Home says:

    [...] kill two birds with one stone here (I promise no animals were injured in the making of this post): assignment #3 of Hallie’s Through the Lens photography workshop, and a reference for our Keepers at Home group, where I covered these tips for photographic [...]

    October 25th, 2008 at 12:53 pm

  18. Dawn @ My Home Sweet Home says:

    Better late than never! I can’t see the Mr. Linky, but here’s my post!

    October 25th, 2008 at 12:54 pm

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