Tips for Composing Better Photos - dummies

By Barbara Obermeier, Ted Padova

Before working with Photoshop Elements 10, you need to take photographs that are interesting and well composed. Some of these tips overlap and contain common concepts, but they’re all free; they don’t require any extra money or equipment.

Find a focal point for your photos

One of the most important tools for properly composing a photo is establishing a focal point — a main point of interest. The eye wants to be drawn to a subject.

Keep these tips in mind to help find your focal point:

  • Pick your subject and then get close to it.

  • Include something of interest in scenic shots.

  • When it’s appropriate, try to include an element in the foreground middle ground, or background to add depth and a sense of scale.

Use the rule of thirds when taking pictures

When you’re composing your shot, mentally divide your frame into vertical and horizontal thirds and position your most important visual element at any intersecting point. When you’re shooting landscapes, remember that a low horizon creates a dreamy and spacious feeling and that a high horizon gives an earthy and intimate feeling. For close-up portraits, try putting the face or eyes of a person at one of those points.


If you have an autofocus camera, you need to lock the focus when you’re moving from center.

Cut the clutter in your photos

Here are some ways you can cut the clutter from your background:

  • Try to fill the frame with your subject.

  • Shoot at a different angle.

  • Move around your subject.

  • Move your subject.

  • Use background elements to enhance.

  • Use space around a subject to evoke a certain mood.

  • If you’re stuck with a distracting background, use a wider aperture (such as f/4).

Frame your shots when taking pictures

When it’s appropriate, use foreground elements to frame your subject. Frames lead you into a photograph. You can use tree branches, windows, archways, and doorways. Your framing elements don’t always have to be sharply focused. Sometimes, if they’re too sharp, they distract from the focal point.


Employ contrast when taking pictures

Just remember, “Light on dark, dark on light.”

A light subject has more impact and emphasis if it’s shot against a dark background, and vice versa. Keep in mind, however, that contrast needs to be used carefully. Sometimes, it can be distracting, especially if the high-contrast elements aren’t your main point of interest.


Use leading lines when taking pictures

Leading lines are lines that lead the eye into the picture and, hopefully, to a point of interest. The best leading lines enter the image from the lower-left corner. Roads, walls, fences, rivers, shadows, skyscrapers, and bridges provide natural leading lines, especially in scenic or landscape photos. The photo shown of the Great Wall of China is an example of curved leading lines.


Experiment with viewpoints while taking pictures

Not much in the world looks fascinating photographed from a height of 5 to 6 feet off the ground. Try to break out of this common mode by taking photos from another vantage point. Experiment with taking a photo from above the subject (bird’s-eye view) or below it (worm’s-eye view). A different angle may provide a more interesting image.

Use light in your photos

Here are a few tips about light:

  • The best light is in early morning and later afternoon.

  • Avoid taking portraits at midday.

  • Overcast days can be great for photographing, especially portraits.

  • Backlighting can produce dramatic results.


  • Ensure that the brightest light source isn’t directed into the lens to avoid lens flare.

  • Use a flash in low light.

  • Get creative.

Give direction in your photos

Don’t be afraid to play photo stylist:

  • Get someone to help direct.

  • Give directions about where you want people to stand, and so on.

  • Designate the location.

  • Arrange people around props, such as trees or cars.

  • Use a variety of poses.

  • Try to get people to relax.


Consider direction of movement when taking photos

When the subject is capable of movement, such as a car, person, or animal, make sure that you leave more space in front of the subject than behind it. Likewise, if a person is looking out onto a vista, make sure that you include that vista.