The Semi-Adventurous Travellers

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Composition Rules for your Travel Photos

I think the first question most people want to know is; “how do you take a good picture?”  There are a lot of ways to take a better picture, but I’m going to start with five simple composition rules. This is the first in a page in a series to help you take better travel photos.

The Rule of Thirds

If you read anything about taking a picture you have probably heard this rule. The “rule of thirds” is one of the most fundamental photography rules. You divide your photo into three sections from top to bottom and three sections from left to right. From here you put the centre of attention in one of the intersecting lines of these parts.  In this case, Lady Liberty’s  arm, torch, and head.

Example of the Rule of Thirds Example of the Rule of ThirdsExample of the Rule of Thirds of Composition
Example of the Rule of Thirds

Some newer cameras have this built-in.  If you do have it, you may have to hunt through a bunch of menus to find it.  Once you get used to using this composition rule, it will become almost second nature.

When taking scenes with a horizon put it in the top or bottom third. It almost always makes the image more interesting.  A lot of times you have a lot of empty blue sky up there.  In this example, I put the water line in the intersections.

Composition Rule of Thirds with a horizon
Example of the Rule of Thirds with a horizon

Check the Corners

This is a secret my teacher in grade 11 told us.  You will always have better photos if, before you press the shutter, you do a quick look around the edge of the frame.  Take extra care to look in the corners from anything that might distract from your centre of attention.  Things to look for are:

  • Exit signs (i hate these things)
  • unwanted people
  • bright and shiny objects
  • a photo bomber (I hate these guys too)
  • body parts unexpectedly cut off

Leading Lines

Ever look at a photo, and you find your eyes going right to the point of interest?  I bet there are lines in the picture somewhere point the way.  The rule of Leading Lines takes advantage of any sharp lines in the frame.  Sometimes it’s a straight line running right into your subject; other times is something like a winding road or sides of the pool. By just noticing if there are lines in your picture and using them to your advantage will improve your shots.

Get in Close

It is tempting to try to include everything in each photo when you are on a trip. Trust me; sometimes simple is better.  A simple composition of one statue in the park taken up close and tight will be a better memory than a long row statues surrounded by parkland where you can’t see any detail.  You can take that wide shot of the row as well, and if you do, try to use the line to lead up to something. You have heard the saying “Can’t see the forest for the trees”?  This is that sort of thinking. A lot of times what you want your friends to see is swallowed up by the surroundings.

If you don’t have enough zoom on your camera, use your feet.  Again, take that wide shot when you start, it digital, you’re not paying for film. So, move in and fill that frame as well.  One instructor, I had said to keep moving in and around your subject until you feel the “Ah Ha!” moment.  Seldom has my first glance ended up being the picture I printed or shared on social media.

Look for Patterns

And my last composition pointer?  Look for patterns; we love patterns.  We build them into our world because we like them.  When you go to your favourite store, they have all the shelves stocked to form patterns.  Nice neat rows of colourful sweaters or all the labels facing the same way on a shelf. Fences, a row of beach chairs, tulips in an orderly flowerbed, a row of red-suited Beefeaters outside of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace? We eat them up!  Keep your eyes out for patterns, and you will see some of the other compositional elements around too.  A lot of times patterns incorporate leading lines and can comfortably fit with the rule of thirds.

I hope you find these composition tips useful on your next trip.  The best thing to do is get out and practice looking for them even when your not taking pictures. Visualize these things as you look around the world. This way, the next time you lift up your camera to catch the “snapshot,” it is second nature and a better photo you will be proud to blast out to all your friends.

Also remember, rules are made to be broken.  Sometimes you will look at something and it just fits that it sits dead centre of your viewfinder.

If you found this page through a web search be sure to check out the main page of my Travel Photography Tip & Trick page for other tips.  We plan to post new pages all year long.

Thanks for joining us and happy travels.

6 thoughts on “Composition Rules for your Travel Photos”

  1. This was very informative and a great summary of the basics! It’s just what I needed for a refresher. Thanks for posting!

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