7 Simple Composition Techniques to improve your Photography

I love the sceince & emotion of photographic compostion. For some, composition comes naturally. But for most (myself included), good photography composition is a learned skill. Just like any learned technique such as the technical side of exposure ( Shutter Speed Aperture, ISO), you can learn and apply composition rules to your photography. It takes awareness, practice and real effort to create an engaging photograph.

Rule of Thrids - Peggy's cove, Nova Scotia

When you apply good composition to your photography you create visual interest in your photos.  It helps to lead the viewer through your image and adds to telling the story you want to express.

Remember,  as a photographer you have complete control of every visual element in the frame of your camera; what you shoot, time of day, distance to subject, camera settings, camera type and of course composition.

Leadng lines - McCabe Lake, Nova Scotia

When you apply specific composition techniques within a photograph you are creating visual interest within your photo. Think back to the time you saw a particular photo and said “Wow that is a great photo”. Now, try and analyze why you think it is a “wow” image. Usually, there is at least one composition principle being used in the photo.

A strong subject matter can have a lot to do with the interest of the photo.  However, a strong subject matter and poor composition may create less engagement with the viewer.

From a scientific point of view, when we use compelling composition in our photography it actually creates more activity in the brain for the viewer. This increased brain activity increases the subconscious feeling of connection and interest within your photograph.

With just a bit of effort and planning, you can dramatically improve your own photography with these simple techniques.  

The amazing concept I love about composition, is that you do not have to have a particular type of camera or expensive gear. Any type of camera can create a beautiful image. Composition is not based upon technology. The best camera you have is your mind’s eye. The physical camera is simply an extension of what you see and want to create.

Below are 7 short composition techniques that will improve your photography.

(1) Define the main subject with your photo
Try and show a clear main subject in the photo and this does not mean it has to be a person. It could be a mountaintop, coastline, flower or even how the light is sweeping across a room. So before you start snapping away, think about what is the main subject you are trying to photograph and how the subject is interacting with all the other visual elements within your frame.

(2) Rule of Thirds (Move it from the middle)
When you look in the viewfinder, imagine there are lines dividing the frame in the section. Two horizontal and two vertical line placed a third of the way into the frame. For example, when you are photographing a landscape try and place the horizon on one of this horizontal lines.  When you place the horizon on these lines you are creating visual interest in your photos. 

If your subject is in the middle try and place the subject slightly to the right or left under one of these lines. Placing the main subject, horizon etc, to the left or right you will create a stronger, more deliberate visual tension in the frame.

(3) Points of Interest
Adding to the technique of the “Rule of Thirds” comes the technique of where these lines intersect.  Believe it or not we have a natural tendency to look to where these virtual lines intersect and if you place your main subject under one of these intersecting points you will create a stronger composition and interest in your image.  


(4) Fill the frame
You can never get too close. When I am teaching my photo workshop, one of the most common challenges I see is that the student’s main subject is never large enough in the frame.  When you fill the frame with your intended subject you keep the viewer's eye within your image. This technique creates an instant connection between the viewer and the subject in your photo. 

So the next time you are taking that photo, take the time and really ask yourself if you can get closer to the subject. 

(5) Leading lines
This is still one of favorite composition techniques. Having a line or path in your photo leads the viewer through the photograph.

This creates motion and structure with your photo and create more interest within your image.

(6) Shapes & Patterns
I am always looking for recognizable shapes and repeating patterns within the frame of my camera.  

McCabe Lake, Nova Scotia

These shapes and patterns become something a viewer can subconsciously relate to when they are viewing your images.   

(7) Look for Unique Angles
When I am teaching my photography workshops,  I am always saying “ If you are not crawling on the ground or trying to climb that tree you are not pushing yourself to find the unique perspectives with your photos.”  Remember if we only photograph from eye level we only end up with photography that everyone can see with their own eyes.


You do not need to have all of these techniques within every photo you create.  You may one apply one or two techniques and of course you do not have to follow these rules all the time. That's the beauty of photography,  you can break them anytime you want. However, as I said in my last post, you want to break the rules with intention instead of by accident. When you break the rules by accident you won't clearly know why your image is successful. But when you plan and make the effort to create your photograph, you will naturally start to look for composition in your own photography.

Bluff Wilderness Trail, Halifax Nova Scotia

So let me state this again; anyone can learn to take beautiful photographs.  You do not need to be born with this skill. However, it does take a commitment of time, effort and a lot of practice to make this a natural instinctive reaction when you are using your camera. So with the holidays near there are so many opportunities to practice these techniques.  Think about how you can try to apply just a one of these techniques the next time you are using your camera. 

Remember to push yourself to think about what you are seeing in the frame before you take the snapshot and try and make it a photograph.

Cheers & keep making photos.  :)

How to tell a Visual Story with your Photographs

I believe in the power of a single photograph to relay a message but a series of photos can truly convey detailed elements of your story that might be missed with just one image.

Many times we are taking photos for family events, traveling to exotic places or even going for that short winter hike along the trail and become focused on creating that one perfect photo.

We all get fixed on creating the perfect image. We (myself included) sometimes forget to stop and really take the time to see all the visual moments that are happening during the search for that one perfect photo. These visual moments can create a richer story that is deeper than the single photograph we are trying to create.

This is not to say there is no value in the individual photo but this is more of a suggestion to create a more detailed story with a series of images.

Like any great movie, there are main actors, supporting actors and multiple camera angles that all combine to make the story as a whole.

I keep a simple approach when I am trying to create a visual story.  When I am taking photos I mentally try to break down what I am photographing into different elements.

  1. Establishing view (these usually are a wider angle view)
  2. Standard view( these photos become the bulk of the story)
  3. Detailed view (close up but not necessarily macro images)
  4. Unique perspective

There could be more than these four photo elements but I try to photograph at least these four types.  This allows me to have a variety of images to choose from when I am building my story after the taking of photos is finished.

How many you have of each grouping will depend on the subject matter or the complexity of the story you are trying to convey.  If you look at my Instagram account or Facebook posts, I usually try to show posts with three or more images.  This way I can relay more of a detailed story than just one photo at a time.

Now of course, this does not happen all the time and just like in any visual art form, rules are meant to be broken.  However my standpoint on rules is simple. Break them with intention instead of by accident, meaning I sometimes create or share only one image to tell my story of that moment.

As I mentioned in my previous post "pixels are free" and it does not cost anything to take additional photos with your digital camera. So the next time you are creating photos, don’t just take that one perfect family portrait or pretty sunset.  Think about how you can convey a more complete story with 3-4 different images.

Experiment, play and have fun with your photography and remember "we take snapshots but we create photographs".

If you try this method, I would love to see your results. Please feel free to send me a link to your photos or leave a note in the comments.

Cheers and keep making photos. :)

The Importance of knowing Sun & Moon position in your Photography

Photographing Fall sunsets & supermoon over Halifax Harbour,

I have been planning to make these photos for almost 5 months now. At this time of year the sun sets almost directly behind the Halifax Citadel and the supermoon (Nov 14th) moon sets almost directly behind the Halifax McDonald Bridge.

Why is knowing my sun and moon position important for me?  At this time of year the sun sets directly behind the city. In the summer the sun sets to the far right of our downtown waterfront. 

By having the sun set behind the city skyline, I have the glow of twilight and shadow that adds shape and dimension to the buildings. 

Without this glow I would lose the implied shapes of the buildings and of course the saturated colours of twilight.

For the supermoon that just took place on Nov 14th, 2016.  I wanted to have a large foreground element of the bridge and city that adds scale to the moon and emphasize the effects of the supermoon phenomenon.

There is a secondary reason why this time of year is important for me.  As the temperature gets colder there is less moisture in the air, especially over Halifax Harbour.  With less moisture in the air I can achieve a much clearer image when photographing over water and vast distances. If you have a lot of moisture in the air this will create a haze in your photo and this haze will reduce the sharpness and colours in your image.

By planning out your photo in advance, a bit of luck with the weather and lots of patience you will create the image you want.

There are many resources to plan your photos in advance. I use The Photographer's Ephemeri app on my iPhone and desktop app to determine my sun and moon position. 

It is a really powerful app that has so many functions and features. It works on almost all mobile and desktop platforms.  Here is a link to the The Photographer's Ephemeri app (Link).

Thank you for taking the time read my post. Remember photography is not just about the subject matter but more about how we photograph the light and how that light interacts with our subject.

Cheers & keep taking photos. :)



  • Nikon D800
  • Nikon D7100
  • Nikon 12-14 f2.8
  • Nikon 24-70 f2.8
  • Nikon 70-200 f2.8
  • Nikon 200-500mm f5.6
  • Manfrotto tripods
  • warm gloves ;)