Back to Overview

4 Hallmarks of Composition in Photography

How do I decide what to include in my shot? From which angle should I photograph my subject? What about the background? All are common questions related to photographic composition – the most crucial aspects of a successful photo. Equipping yourself with some foundational skills is interesting and fun, and will help you make extraordinary images in ordinary situations.

Choosing the right "point-of-view" is one of the best starting points for composing stronger photos. Capturing the action at Sechselaueten in Zurich from a higher angle did a much better job of telling the story in this example.

The four hallmarks of good compostion are summarized as:

Clearly define subject and background

Positioning your subject so that it stands out from the background will help draw the viewers interest. This effect can be created by carefully choosing your aperture setting and by using light, tone and even color to separate the contents of your shot.

Sense of Balance

Photos which are well balanced are more pleasing to the eye. “Visual weight” comes in many forms and can be balanced many ways. Sometimes your subjects can be symmetrically arranged and other times you can find balance – even in a brief moment, between two related objects.

"Shooting up" helps separate the subject from the background. The upward angle also makes the subject feel more powerful.

Backgrounds are a really big deal! Do whatever you need to do to get interesting elements into your background. 


Point of View

Everyone expects the eye-level photograph. Breaking away from this typical point-of-view, in favor of something unexpected is a great way to add interest to your shots. Don’t underestimate the “bird’s-eye” and “worm’s-eye” views.


When choosing your point-of-view you're also choosing your background. Don't be afraid to move around as you search for the best composition.

Degree of Simplicity

Overly complex or cluttered photos will be difficult for the viewer to appreciate. Exclude any unnecessary elements and channel the viewer’s attention to your subject. That’s not to say that all photos must be simple images, but rather that it takes effort on behalf of the photographer to eliminate distractions and direct the attention to what counts!

Matt reveals more tips in our upcoming Creative Junkyard Visit where students practice with several hands-on shooting exercises and receive instructor feedback.