Five composition mistakes you should avoid with your photography and how to fix them

Tips & Techniques

Composition is one of those things that often gets talked about in photography. After all, it’s one of the fundamental aspects of it. If your composition is bad, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got the exposure good or if you’ve even got your subject in focus. We all know about the “rule of thirds” and the “golden ratio”, but there’s so much more to composition than that.

In this video, photographer Joris Hermans talks about the five compositional mistakes he sees being made all the time. Mistakes you should avoid, and how to avoid them.

The mistakes he sees people making aren’t really approached in terms of good or bad, but more knowing you have a bad exposure, what is the cause and how do we fix it? There are no rules here, except for some tips on how to use the pre-existing popular ones, but more so things to think about when you’re taking the shot.

  • 01:08 Not knowing what story you want to tell
  • 02:38 Thinking about the rules too much
  • 03:27 Making your composition to complicated
  • 04:50 Not moving your *ss
  • 05:03 Not using the crop tool

Even if you think you have a good one, there is often a way to improve upon it when you think about what story you actually want to tell. It’s very easy to focus on the wrong thing in an image – and I’m not just talking about which bit is sharp, I mean what draws your eye.

Forgetting the rules and just seeing what looks good through the viewfinder or on your camera’s LCD and going with your gut can tell you enough and allow you to break the rules effectively once you understand why they exist.

Don’t overthink your composition and try to make it too complicated. Complicated scenes can sometimes work, but not always. Often, overly complicated scenes often draw your eye to its simplest element.

Think about other perspectives. How will the shot look if you move a few metres to the left or the right? This one’s particularly valuable for landscape photographers. Once you’ve set up your tripod and you’ve taken a few shots. Wander around, explore, see what other nearby points you can take the shot from to get a slightly different view. Also, consider getting up higher or going down lower.

Don’t be afraid to crop. The “purists” who tell you that they don’t crop and it all has to be done in-camera are… Well, they’re not very smart, to put it politely. Back in the film days, people thought nothing of cropping images once they had that frame up on the enlarger. 35mm film is in a 3:2 aspect ratio. How do you get a 10×8 print out of that without cropping? You can’t. Large format is generally a 5:4 ratio, but what if you want a panoramic? And when it comes to medium format, you’ve got 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×8 and 6×9 aspect ratios.

You’re not always going to want to make a print that’s the same size as the complete frame on film, so why would you think any differently when it comes to digital? I’ve seen plenty of compositions that I thought looked great on the 3:2 view of my DSLRs, but even before I hit the shutter I knew they’d look better as a 5:4 or square crop. So, I crop them.

What composition mistakes do you make and what do you do to overcome them?

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