Composition and Cropping Tutorial

Composition and cropping are very basic digital photography tools that you can use hand-in-hand to produce stunning results. First you use composition to arrange the main elements of your photo in a pleasing manner. Then you use cropping to fine-tune the image by removing unwanted elements and further adjusting the composition. With practice, you can refine your shots to look as good as you imagined them when you pushed the shutter button.

Fort Howe Monument First, let’s take a look at the most basic rule of composition, the rule of thirds: Imagine your viewfinder having a grid on it that looks like a tic-tac-toe game. Then arrange the elements of your shot so that the main element is not in the centre square. This is the rule of thirds in a nutshell and a good starting point for basic composition.

Next, let’s consider leading lines: If there is an element in your shot like a fence or roadway, consider using this element to lead your viewer’s eye into the photograph. These kinds of elements work well when arranged on a diagonal to run from lower left to upper right, or lower right to upper left. You could also shoot from the centre of a roadway, and let it take up the whole bottom, tapering towards the upper centre—this breaks (or at least bends) the rule of thirds, but we will talk about that next.

Fall Reflections Now, you know that rules are made to be broken, so let’s take a look at how to break the rule of thirds. The first thing to remember is to trust your eye and your instincts: if it looks good dead centre, shoot it that way. Certain types of shots lend themselves to centre composition. For example: shots of calm water that perfectly reflect the landscape above—quite often the reflection is just as compelling as the landscape, so why not give them equal billing?

Note: If there are any distracting elements in your shot—that you just cannot compose out—try to keep them towards the outside of your shot. This will allow you to remove them with post-shot cropping.

Another thing to keep in mind when composing your shots is variety—the more raw material you have to work with, the better. Compose your shots in several different ways: with your main subject in the lower third; in the upper third; left of centre; right of centre; with the camera tipped on its end etc. Digital photography is great in this respect: you can shoot as many photos as you want at virtually no extra cost, so why not take advantage?

Now, cropping: Once you have your digital photos home and are looking at them on your computer screen, take a look at each shot and ask yourself “is there anything in this shot that doesn’t need to be there? If the answer is yes—and it quite often is—crop it out. If you have managed to keep distracting elements towards the outside of your shot (as recommended earlier in this article,) it is a simple matter of cutting away a bit on the outside of the image to get the shot you want.

It is also a good idea to take a closer look at the overall composition at this point: Is the image composed just the way you would like it? Is the image focused enough on your main subject? If not, don’t be afraid to crop it down a bit more. The beauty of working with digital image files is that you can experiment, if you don’t like what you get, you can start over and try again.

With today’s digital cameras sporting more and more megapixels of resolution, there’s no reason to be afraid of cropping, cropping, cropping. So compose with care and variety, then crop till you get that masterpiece you imagined when you pushed the shutter button.

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