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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

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Photography composition is often taught as a set of rules. But following the rules of composition all the time can result in unimaginative images.

This article gives you twelve unusual and interesting composition tips to inspire you to be more adventurous.

A potrait of two Karen men on black background - photography composition ideas

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

1. Create an Unusual Crop

Good photography composition does not have to include your entire subject. Cut heads off. Remove limbs. Only include half of a whole.

To use this technique effectively, concentrate on what’s relevant. This photo of a butcher focuses on his hands and the meat he’s cutting. It does not matter that his face is not visible. Having the other butcher in the background helps the composition.

Behind the butcher’s head was a very bright area. Including his head would have meant the rest of the top of my frame was very over exposed and distracting. So I cut his head off.

Butchers working at a busy Thai market

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

2. Arrange Your Elements for an Unconventional Shot

Forget about the rule of thirds, leading lines and all the other rules. Work at producing a good composition based on what you feel looks best. Take your time to make creative photographs.

Look at lines and shapes. Bring balance in your photography composition by how you position your camera. Changing your point of view even a bit can alter your composition.

Crouch down, move to your left or right. Lift your camera a little higher. Don’t stand to take your photos unless it gives you the best perspective.

For this photo of the woman reading the newspaper at the temple, I was standing. This angle allowed me to arrange all the elements well. My timing was also significant. When she was looking down at the newspaper there was no flow in the photo.

black and white portrait of a woman reading a newspaer at a table - black and white photography composition ideas

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

3. Look Higher Up

Coming in close to your subject and looking up at it will produce a dramatic composition. The closer you are, the more dramatic it can appear.

It’s easy to stand back and get an overall view of something. This perspective is not often the most creative. Moving in close to a tall subject so it towers over you gives an unusual and intriguing perspective.

Using this photo composition tip can help you eliminate distracting backgrounds too.

Looking up the papaya tree to take this photo I was able to fill my frame with green. The fruit, leaves and stalks arranged in a tight composition exclude the background.

I tried standing farther back from the tree to make a photo. But even if I zoomed in, I would not have been able to make such a tight, full composition.

close up shot at papayas on a tree

4. Take a Bird’s Eye View

You can take a bird’s eye view and look down at your subject. Position your camera above and parallel with what you are photographing.

You don’t have to be right above your subject. But this does often have more impact than if your camera is off at an angle. This is not how we view things everyday.

Adding this composition technique helps create diversity.

birds eye view of two bowls of food on a wooden table

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

5. Make a Shadow Your Subject

A photo where you include the shadow as the main subject is often interesting. Look for shapes creating eye catching shadows. Frame them so the shadow is your primary focus.

The bicycle wheel and its shadow, without the rest of the bike, created a unique picture.

I did not need to include the whole of my subject. It’s clear to see that it’s a bike. Incorporating the shadow creates a balance with the two elliptical shapes.

a blacka nd white photo of a bicycle wheel and its shadow - photography composition ideas

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

6. Looking Through the Foreground

So you have one main subject. Try looking at it through something that’s in the forground.

Making a portrait and using this composition tip you might use a tree, fence, or lattice. You can use anything at all so long as you can still see enough of your subject. You could even use a collection of different objects.

Be close enough to your foreground and use a wide aperture. You want whatever is in the foreground to be well out of focus. If it’s too much in focus it will be more of a distraction than an enhancement.

It is not important for your foreground to be recognisable in your composition for it to work well. Sometimes the more blurred it is, the better.

In this photo of a Thai woman in traditional costume I used leaves on a tree as my foreground.

A photo of a Thai woman in traditional costume with a tree in the foreground.

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

This is different than the more classical rule of composition of a frame within a frame.

7. Tilt Your Camera

You do not always need to hold your camera horizontally or vertically. Throw your horizon off by holding your camera at an angle.

You can use this technique to exclude distracting elements from the background. Holding your camera in a conventional way might add distractions. Tilt it instead.

The more pronounced the angle, the less it will look like a bad composition.

Finding a straight diagonal line within your composition you can use it as an edge to your frame. This produces a more creative photograph. And the viewer will know your camera angle is deliberate.

A man hammering metal on an anvil - photography composition ideas

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

8. Get Down on the Ground

Taking a worm’s eye view of the world produces interesting compositions. Not many people lie on the ground to look at things. If you get low to compose, you will be providing a more unique perspective of your subject.

And you can make the most of an expansive foreground. This will draw the viewer’s eye to the main subject. The perspective will seem exaggerated. Especially if you are using a wide angle lens.

Combining a very low angle with a tilted camera (as in tip #7) can add drama to a plain scene.

A black and white photo of a bridge with interesting composition

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

9. Use Repetition for More Creative Photos

When you have two subjects that are the same, use them both in your composition. Don’t include all of one or even all of either of them.

You can come in close and use part of one in the forground. You might find it better to hide one behind the other.

But don’t get stuck thinking you need to show both to make a creative composition.

Move around and find different camera angles to experiment with. As you move pay attention to how the relationship between the two elements changes. And look at the relationship they have with the background too.

By not including the whole of your subject your photograph will be more intriguing. You can build questions in the viewer’s mind if the whole of your subject is not visible.

a close up of two tuk tuks

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

10. Compose Tight to Your Landscape Foreground

Focus part of your composition in the foreground when taking a landscape. Most people will aim to incorporate as much of a landscape scene as possible. Often you can make a more creative photograph by including less, not more.

Look for something that is integral to your landscape. Come in close to it and include it in an eye-catching way as a main part of your composition.

Rural landscapes can often be wide and empty. Often rather dull. Coming in close to the rice, I was able to compose a more interesting photograph.

It wasn’t just another green hillside.

tight composition of rice growing in a field

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

11. Use Details to Draw Attention to Your Subject

Compose using minimal elements or small parts of elements. By only showing a small part of something you can stimulate curiosity in your photo.

Don’t always show the whole elephant or the whole of the model. This technique is best used when you are working on a series of photos of the same subject. Use it to highlight interesting details in your subject.

You can become very abstract with this photography idea. Think outside the box to incorporate or exclude parts of your subject. That you, you are creating a strong composition.

a close up of two tuk tuks - photo composition tips

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

12. Try Partially Concealed Portraits

This is a similar technique to photo composition tip #11. Not showing the whole of your portrait subject’s face is less abstract. Being selective in what you show and how much produces a more creative portrait.

By hiding part of your subject you can create a sense of mystery.

Try this when you are photographing someone with a scar or some other kind of disfigurement. Mask it using this technique.

This can also work well when your model has very different shaped eyes. Hiding one of them can often make a more attractive portrait.

A beautiful thai girl with half her face covered by an umbrella - interesting photography composition ideas

Photo by: Kevin Landwer-Johan

Make Your Own Rules of Composition

You do not need to stick to any rules of photography. Experiment and find out what works for you. Push beyond what you are comfortable with. Break the rules. Make your own.

Be prepared to create some pretty weird looking photos. Know that many times your photography ideas will not work. With a good digital workflow where you review your images and compare them, this will help your learn.

As you explore different ways of composing photos, you will begin to enjoy using certain techniques. Stick with these. As you identify ones you have used and love the results, use them more.

This can help you develop your own style, especially if you photograph the same type of subject often.

Unless your subject is one you photograph all the time, make sure you get some ‘safe’ shots. Take a few photos using more conventional composition techniques.

This is especially important when you are taking photos for an assignment or client.

Conclusion

Study the work of master photographers and painters. Find artist’s whose work you like, especially if it is a bit abstract in nature. Ponder how they have composed some of their more unusual pieces. Ask yourself what it is that you like about the compositions.

Many times you will be able to see patterns in the way  photographers compose their images.

Build up your own set of compositional techniques. Keep the ones that create the most interesting photographs.

Use them often and you will see your photography grow.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

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Thanks again for reading our articles!

Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin's professional background is in editorial and commercial photography. Please enroll in his FREE course for beginner photographers which will build your confidence in photography. You will learn how to make sense of camera settings and gain a better understanding of the importance of light in photography. Check out Kevin's Blog for articles with a more personal approach to photography.

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