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Advanced Composition. What makes a good photograph? They need to have impact! It is more than just having on object in the technically correct place in the photo. Pictures need to have a purpose! They need to convey a feeling, story, memory…..purpose.

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What makes a good photograph?

They need to have impact!

It is more than just having on object in the technically correct place in the photo.

Pictures need to have a purpose!

They need to convey a feeling, story, memory…..purpose.

Too often we point and shoot an hope for the best…you need to start thing “Why am I taking this picture?”







FART- Feel-

A good photo starts when you get the feeling that you need to take a picture and capture “that thing”

Ask yourself what is it that caught my eye?

A viewer will simply move on to the next image if they can’t identify what the point is.


FART: Ask-

  • Ask yourself what it is that made you want to stop and take a picture?
  • Is it a bold color, a stunning pattern, an interesting placement of elements, fantastic lighting?
  • What exactly caught your eye?

FART: Refine-

  • This is the hard part- you need to refine the image
  • Emphasize!- emphasize what it is that made you stop in the first place- a color-texture-relationship between elements
  • If you can emphasize what made you stop and say WOW! in the first place- others probably will too
  • Get rid of anything that doesn’t directly complement the image

FART: Refine-

  • Don’t be afraid to change your perspective! Look for ways to lead your eyes
  • Get up close, from ground level, from far above, etc.
  • Continually ask yourself if you have caught that “special something” about the picture.
  • Get in the habit of simplifying and refining your picture

FART: Take-

This is the easy part! Take the picture- make sure exposure and color (WB) are okay and push the button.


Image Structure

  • Every image needs strong underlying compositional order so that it grabs the eye from a hundred feet away.
  • What is this structure?
    • It is the broad underlying colors, shapes and contrasts between light and dark.

What is the structure of this image?

  • Big red diamond in the middle. It is surrounded by blue-gray. The big red rectangle is the obvious, positive space. The blue-gray around it is called negative space.
  • Red jumps out at you, especially when put in front of blue.
  • Emphasis is increased by falloff (darkening of the corners)

Image Structure

  • Once an image has caught your eye you need to keep the attention with details
  • Every photo has details- What are they here?
  • yellow peeking out from behind the red
  • clouds swooping out from the center
  • crud on the concrete
  • Rear wall

This photo, like all good photos, is about shapes, colors and balances. It has nothing to do with the fact that the actual subject was an abandoned, burnt-out bathhouse with no roof.

Tip: If an image catches your attention as a thumbnail, where you cannot see the details, it is probably a strong image with good structure.

If it doesn’t make you want to click on it, well…….



  • When composing ignore the details
  • Pay attention to the boldest broadest and most basic lines and shapes
  • Use every item in the image as a compositional element. If it doesn’t help the composition take it out of the picture.
  • Move the camera forward and back, up and down, left and right to rearrange items in the frame the way you want them.
  • What makes this a strong photo?
  • It has nothing to do with the sign itself.
  • It is the color, direction, the way your eyes gets lead around the photo
  • Patterns- red-green-red-green

Composition: Simplify and Exclude

  • There is an acronym that you can remember.
  • Continue to simplify and exclude and then balance, until you have the strongest image possible.
  • No amount of Photoshop can fix bad composition
  • What makes this bathroom more than a bathroom? What compositional elements are taking place here?
  • Shapes (Triangles)- Repetition (roof, mountain, roof) - Lines

Eye Path:

  • Our eyes are first attracted to the brightest, or the contrastiest, or the most colorful part of an image.
  • After we've caught the eye, the eye starts to wander around and see what else there is to see.
  • After you've caught a viewer's eye, you have to be sure that it stays in your image, and doesn't wander out.
  • Keep details out of the corners, and be sure that important elements aren't cut by the frame edges. How do we move mountains? Easy: turn the camera, or walk a few steps left or right to move them relative to the tree in your frame
  • We who read English usually start at the top left, and work our way to the bottom right. It's weird if a car is driving to the left; that's backwards.
  • Our eyes last look into the dark areas. They only get there if the image was good enough catch our eye in the first place, then had enough lighter details to keep us looking around for a while, and be good enough that we're still curious enough to see what is in the shadows.


  • Details that don’t directly add to the overall structure of the image make it weaker.
  • If it has nothing to do with the rest of the image crop it out, otherwise the viewers eyes will keep going back to it.

Punch line:

  • Every picture should have a punch line- a purpose.
  • Who wants to hear a joke or watch a movie without a good ending?
  • The punch line is what you find after you look around the image.
  • It doesn’t have to be hidden, it can be as simple as a row of soldiers with one at the end doing or wearing something different.


  • Warm colors, red, orange and yellow, appear to move forward towards the viewer. Our eyes are attracted to them first.
  • Cool colors, greens, blues and violets, recede away from the viewer.
  • An easy way to make your image three-dimensional is to have an orange object in front of a blue background
  • Colors tend to be harmonious when you have two colors balanced from opposite sides of the color wheel.


  • Lighting is everything!
  • It is technically important part of any image.
  • Without good light, a great camera or subject mean nothing.
  • You need to recognize how light will look on camera, it is rarely how we see it.

What is great Light?:

  • It is different for every subject
  • Very often in nature it is in the beginning or end of the day
  • Weather or clouds can be very dramatic.
  • Overcast days give a very flat light- but if you are patient- the sun may pop out on your subject

Burning and Dodging

  • The most important image editing, other than cropping, is selective lightening and darkening, called dodging and burning.
  • Lighten the parts of the image to which you want to add emphasis, and to which you want to attract the eye first.
  • Darken the parts of the image that are irrelevant, or lead the eyes away from the important part.
  • It needs to be subtle! If it looks like you did it, you went too far.

So what is important to remember??

Strong subject with purpose


Image structure


Simplify and Exclude

Eye path

Burning & Dodging