Introduction: Creating Successful Photographs - Basic Composition

About: Want/need to learn photography from a professional? That's what I'm here for. However, I'm bad at this, "talking about me," stuff, so here are some quotes that sum up my better bits. ---------- "Take me, I a…

I'm taking us back to the very beginning of photography here, so if you've taken a photo class or have some experience with photography, you might just want to skip this instructable.  However, if you've never done photography before, but have an interest in improving your photographs, listen up!

**NOTE: All photographs used in this tutorial were shot and retouched by myself, including those that have the Vogue logo as they have been published on

Step 1: Composition

One of the most important aspects of a successful photograph is the composition.  It provides a visually appealing story that catches your eye and brings you into the photograph, so to speak.  It gives you a sense of the subject and its surroundings without making the viewer feel trapped or stuck in any particular corner.

For example: if you have a subject with a face, be it a person, flower, animal, etc. if the "face" is pointing towards the edge of the photograph with space behind it, the viewer has nowhere to go from there.  When photographing something with a face, it is always best to leave more space in front of the face than behind it to lead the viewer into the rest of the photograph.

Step 2: Composition - Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a guideline photographers use to make the photograph more interesting.  Generally, a photograph with the subject in the dead center is boring, though there are some exceptions, such as the photograph from step one.  Though the subject is centered, the photograph itself is symmetrical, giving it a more graphic look.

When using the Rule of Thirds, you want to keep the subject on or as close to the 4 intersections in the graph.  This will give you a much more interesting photograph, and lead the viewer into the rest of the photo.  In the example I used, typeography can be put into the negative space of the image and the bird can easily lead the viewer to the copy.

You can also use the rule of thirds as a guideline to create offset photographs, which place the subject towards the edge of the photograph while maintaining a visually appealing theme.

Step 3: Composition - Leading Lines and the Hogarth Line of Beauty

Another way to lead the viewer into a photograph is by using leading lines.  Many photographers use the edges or lines in roads, train tracks, bridges, etc. as leading lines.  This gives the photograph a sense of depth or perspective. 

*Tip: when using a leading line, it is much more effective if the line is not coming directly from a corner.  You can skew it so that it is coming from above or below the actual corner if you're still set on it coming from the corner of the photograph.

Another popular form of leading line is the Hogarth Line of Beauty.  This leading line usually comes in the form of an S curve, but any curved line within a photograph can also be considered a Hogarth line.

**FUN FACT: the Hogarth Line of Beauty was named after William Hogarth after he came up with his theory of Asthetics as described in his "Asthetics of Beauty."  According to the theory, the S curve signifies liveliness and activity and excite the attention of the viewer, while straight lines, parallels, right-angled or intersecting lines represent stasis, death or inanimate objects.

Step 4: Lighting

Another extremely important aspect of a successful photograph is the lighting. 

The proper lighting can give the viewer a sense of mood or emotion.  Dramatic or harsh lighting can make the viewer feel excited, depressed, scared, etc.  Softer or diffused lighting gives the viewer an idea of the shape of the subject, and can create a sense of dreaminess or lightness.

*Tip: if using sunlight as your light source, the best times of day to shoot are early in the morning and in the late afternoon to the evening.  Mid day light gives off little or no shadows as it is directly above and can be harsh with the shadows.  Also, contrary to popular belief, bright, sunny, cloudless days are NOT the best days to shoot.  The quality of light is much better on overcast days because the clouds cut out the harshness of the sun and diffuse the light.

Step 5: Subject

And of course, probably the most important aspect of a successful photograph is the subject matter.  Choose an interesting subject that people would want to look at or wonder about.  If any emotion is evoked from the viewer, be it sadness, joy, fright, horror, wonder, etc. you have created a successful photograph. 

Happy shooting!  :)

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