Super Composition Hacks

31.07.2017 |

Episode #10 of the course The best photography hacks by Tom Ang



Here’s the final installment of my photography hacks course. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning new tricks and are trying out the hacks I’ve described. Now here’s what some photographers find a total mystery.

Photo composition can be one impenetrable subject for many photographers. Being told to follow rules do not help at all. So, let’s try a different approach.

Contrast of Scale

One of the secrets to successful composition is to create a sense of three-dimensional space in your images. We know that objects near to us are bigger than those farther away. This gives us a simple way to create a sense of space:

• Contrast the size and scale of objects by including close-up, as well as distant, objects in the frame.

When a viewer looks at the distant object, they’re always aware of the one close by. That’s what gives a sense of space. That’s why the trick of framing a scene with a doorway or window is so effective.


Energize the Balance

The way to avoid lifeless composition is to put in energy by creating a dynamic balance. To understand this, think of a see-saw for children. If two children of about equal weight are on it, they can be the same distance apart. But if an adult gets on, they have to sit much closer to the center to keep balance. It works the same way with photos:

• Place the main subject so as to balance the rest of the space. If the subject fills the space, it often works well at or near the center. If other things are going on, place the main subject to one side.

Use your instinctive feel for space and balance to decide where to place your subject in the frame. If you have time, try this next hack.

Push Limits, Learn Quickly

The beauty of digital photography is that you can make as many exposures as you like with no cost penalty. As composition is a question of personal taste, the best way to learn how to compose a picture to try different options. So, this next hack is:

• Try placing your main subject in different parts of the frame: right in the center, to the far left edge, to the far right edge, or place it right to the top or at the bottom.

Most options won’t work, but one might surprise and delight you. That will be a lesson learned! Keep trying different options: don’t be afraid to try extremes. Better that a shot doesn’t work because you pushed it creatively than because you tried to do the “safe” thing.

• Hint: Don’t delete the images that don’t work. That’s what you think now, but it may not be what you think in a year’s time! Keep your options open.


Sources of Inspiration

Here are a few masters of composition to inspire you. As I’ve suggested before, interrogate these images to place yourself in the photographer’s shoes to feel the situation in your bones.

André Kertesz—one of the all-time great photographers

Ernst Haas—one of the greatest of all photographers working in color

Deborah Turbeville—subtly elegant compositions in fashion

Well, this is the last in this course of photography hacks. I hope you’ve learned lots and found heaps of inspiration. Look out for my other Highbrow courses in photography.

All the best,



Recommended book

Mastering Composition: The Definitive Guide for Photographers by Richard Garvey-Williams


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