Composition by James Brown

Composition is arguably one of the key factors in making a photograph. Without it, an image will lack energy and life. To keep a viewers interest a picture must guide their eye on a mini journey. Some people are lucky enough to have a natural eye they can simply and easily compose the camera in a way that produces great looking and interesting images. If you lack that ability (I myself am not a natural but that's another story) then following the main composition steps listed below will help develop the skill. 

The more you practice the easier it will become, it will be like you're on auto-pilot with your subconscious practically doing everything for you. I would advise spending a large amount of time working on improving composition, learning what works and why. Like a painter, it's a skill that is developed over a lifetime of trial and error.   


Select three of the ‘Rules’ below and take a picture showing that particular composition guide. If you are feeling brave try using several ‘Rules’ in one picture.  I always advise taking a picture how you normally would then implement a ‘Rule’. As you take more pictures you will see over the space of several frames that you improve quite drastically.  

Change your Point of View

This is the obvious rule. Don't be a tree! Move around as much as possible in all directions while looking through the camera's viewfinder. It might only be an inch or a foot difference in a composition which will make or break a picture. Spend enough time looking for a great angle before even thinking about taking a picture.

Crop Tool


A great way to finalize your composition is to use the crop tool which can be found in most editing software such as Lightroom & CS6 Photoshop.

Rule of Thirds

The rules of thirds is a great way to simply compose any image. By dividing the frame into 9 equal rectangles, 3 across and 3 down you give yourself a grid to work with. Most cameras display this grid in live view mode. By placing the important element of the scene along one or more of the lines or where the lines intersect you will create a very appealing image. Most people will naturally want to position a subject in the center of an image, the rule of thirds trains you to position subjects off center which will produce better results. 

Centered Composition and Symmetry

Our brains love symmetry so it's only natural that this will produce a great picture. In order for this to work divide the picture equally from the center with either side being symmetrical. Think of it like the butterfly painting you did at school. 

Foreground Interest and Depth

Having interest in the foreground will jump out to viewers. It will also add depth as the main focus will be in the front naturally leading the viewer's eye into the middle of the picture. This works extremely well with wide angled lenses.  

Frame Within the Frame

This is very similar to the rule of symmetry. This is very popular with architectural photography as arches and pillars can easily be used to frame a building creating a frame within the frame.  

Leading Lines

Probably the second most popular rule used after the rule of thirds. Leading lines are basically anything that draws the viewer's eye into the picture. Natural lines such as trees, streams, and rivers are perfect for this as well as man made objects. By composing these elements in such a way they become lines that the eye will follow. They can be used to direct the viewer's eyes to any part of the picture.  

Rule of Space

This rule is about directing the viewer's attention to a place you want them to. If a subject is not looking directly into camera or looks out of the frame, there should be enough space for the subject to look into. This then intrigues the viewers into what the subject is looking at. People viewing this kind of image will naturally look at the area where the subject is looking at.

Fill the Frame

If you want to make an impact then fill the frame with the subject. Portraits are a prime example. Make the whole picture a magnified version of what you would normally do. This will create drama as well as impact. 

Left to Right Rule

This rule is designed around that fact that our eyes are used to reading left to right. By placing the focus point of the subject more to the right side of the frame will create pleasing images. This is why advertisers place the product/logo at the bottom right-hand side of an advert. 

Golden Ratio

This is the most complicated of all the composition rules but in my humble opinion the best. Leonardo Fibonacci devised a series of numbers that will produce an aesthetically pleasing composition. This composition is known as the Fibonacci Spiral.The Fibonacci Spiral was created from a series of squares using Fibonacci’s numbers, with the length of each square being a Fibonacci number. A series of diagonal points on each square will then create a path for which the spiral can flow through the frame. Using the spiral as a tool to compose a photograph will allow the viewer to be led around the image in a natural flow.









New Workshops & Trips for 2017 by James Brown

DSLR Learning are proud to introduce some amazing new workshops for 2017 that will help improve your photography and technical ability. Alongside you will find some jam-packed weekend and day trips away helping you meet new people and share your passion whilst learning new skills. Have a look below and see if any take your fancy.

Please note that all trips & workshops are on a first come first serve basis. We are expecting the trips and workshops to be booked up fairly quickly so please book soon to avoid disappointment. 

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Camera Club Project: Tilt Shift - January 2017 by James Brown


This project emulates what you can do with a large format camera (4x5 - 10x8) or a tilt shift lens. Using Photoshop you can achieve the same effect. Once you have some images it will take around 5 mins to complete.

Step 1: Photo Selection

When choosing a photograph for the tilt-shift effect, bear in mind that you want to give the impression of a miniature model. Miniature models are usually viewed from above so try and choose a photo with an elevated viewpoint. Buildings, roads, traffic and railways are excellent choices but make sure there is a reasonable wide angle of view. 

Step 2. Enter Quick Mask Mode

Open the image in Photoshop and enter Quick Mask Mode by pressing Q on the keyboard, or select the Quick Mask icon as shown in the Tool Palette below: 

Step 3. Choose Gradient Tool

Choose the Gradient Tool by pressing G on the keyboard, or select the Gradient Tool icon. Be sure to choose the Reflected Gradient option (the fourth icon along before the Mode drop-down). 

Tilt Shift Project Jan 2017-3.jpg

Step 4. Draw A Line

Draw a vertical line; the start point will be the centre of the in-focus area, and the end will be where the transition from in-focus to out-of-focus is completed. This step, and the subsequent two steps, will need a fair degree of trial and error. If you look closely at the image below, you will see the line has been drawn from the back door of the silver car up to just under the word Hollywood beneath the street lamp. (PLEASE NOTE YOUR LINE WILL NOT BE IN RED!)

Once you release the mouse button the area of focus will appear as a red band across the image, as shown in the next step. 

Step 5. View Mask Area

Before progressing, review the position of the red mask. The middle of the mask is where the in-focus area will be, gradually losing focus towards the edges. Note the out-of-focus effect is yet to be applied. 

Step 6. Return To Standard Mode

Press Q on the keyboard to exit Quick Mask Mode and return to Standard Mode, or press the icon on the Tool Palette as shown below. The area to apply the focus effect to will be surrounded by the “marching ants” selection lines: 

Step 7. Open Lens Blur Interface

Choose Filter > Blur > Lens Blur: 

Step 8. Review Effect And Tweak Settings

Hopefully, you will now see a pleasing focus effect. The Photoshop default settings for Lens Blur seem to work well, but experiment with them to improve the effect. If you are unhappy with the position of the focus area, go back to Step 4 and try drawing a line in a different place or with a different centre of focus. 

Step 9. Exit Lens Blur Interface

Assuming you were happy with the image preview in Step 8, click OK to accept the settings: 

Step 10. Remove Selection Boundary

Press CTRL-D on the keyboard to remove the “marching ants” selection boundary: This is known as deselecting.

Step 11. Open Hue/Saturation Adjustment Interface

You may want to boost the colour saturation, to improve the effect. Remember that model scenery is often brightly painted so enhancing the saturation helps trick the eye. Press CTRL-U on the keyboard or select Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation: 

Step 12. Boost Saturation

In this example, we boost the Master saturation to +40. 

Step 13. Open Curves Adjustment Interface

It may help to increase the contrast of the image slightly using the Curves adjustment. Press CTRL-M on the keyboard or select Image > Adjustments > Curves: 

Step 14. Adjust Curves

In this example we use a very small S-shaped curve to increase contrast. Take care not to over-do this step; in fact, it may not be necessary at all. 

Step 15. Finished

Here’s the finished image. 

You can now show everyone your work...but remember don't tell them how you did it! 

Christmass Gift vouchers by James Brown


So after my back surgery I'm now slowly getting back on track with DSLR Learning and will start adding some content on here again, any suggestions please comment below and I'll be happy to help.

We have some new dates for the Beginners Masterclass. Gift vouchers for Christmas are now available to purchase at a discounted price of £40.00.

Vouchers are avalable from our products page here