Lesson 2 – starting with composition

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‘“Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.”

Matt Hardy

Do you ever wonder why you like some photos more than others? Why some make you smile or feel emotional or tell you a story and others leave you cold?

You may be thinking that it's the photographer’s inner artistic genius (and don’t get me wrong - there are some absolutely outstanding and exceptional photographers out there) but often the difference between a strong photo and a bad one is in understanding some common photographic composition rules.

And these rules are all about translating how our brains process visual information, especially when you take a rich and multidimensional world we see and translate it into a small flat rectangle.

And it all comes down to how the eye travels around the image - we already mentioned a little bit about that in the previous lessons when we talked about distractions. 

When you pick up a photo - any photo, try this - close your eyes and when you look back at it just let your eyes fall where they wish. Just pay attention to what you're looking at first, second etc. 

We usually look at the thing that's sharpest first. We also have a bias for people, so those tend to have our attention too.  but once the eye has seen the 'person' it goes on a journey around the image in search of 'meaning' and clues and context. 

And rules of composition are simply about making that journey easy. Well composed images know what they're about and maker it easy for the eye to go to the thing that matters fast and to get to the other good bits next. 

There is usually A LOT of info to analyse so your brain likes a shortcut - if someone can make it easier for your brain to know what to look for, point it out, it gets instantly happier and it simply follows. It’s like playing Where’s Wally and then playing Where is Wally with a great big arrow pointing to Wally.

So we’ll start you off with two ways of making that journey easy for the eye.

Both of them are pretty straightforward and chances are you have already heard of them - but it’s one thing to have heard about something, and quite another to take the time to use it.

1. Leading Lines

We like to be shown where to look and get there straight away. We like to be ‘visually’ taken by the hand and led to the subject. And one of the easiest way of achieving it is to use lines or linear elements that already occur in nature. 

Because if there is a line in your image – and it doesn’t need to be a straight line, or even a particularly well-defined line – our eyes will surely follow it.

This is to your advantage because if you can KNOW that the viewer’s eye will be following a line, all you need to do is make sure your subject is right at the end of it and that’s you done!

The lines that are easily identifiable and that you can take advantage of straight away are things which are all around you anyway – paths, roads, pavements, curbs. But also, if you position yourself more to the side and let the camera’s shooting angle follow the edge – fences, stairs, even edges of furniture.

One important thing – the lines need to lead to your subject. It means the eye needs to follow the line first and THEN encounter your subject. If you plonk your child at the opening of a path, with the path visibly moving way past them, the impact will be completely lost. They need to actually LEAD to them.

Try to take advantage of how perspective and the optics of your camera treat parallel lines too – the further they go, the more they converge, further strengthening the effect.

2. Frame within the frame

The second compositional element is creating a ‘frame’ within your image which surrounds your subject, acting a bit in the same way that making a circle with a highlighter around a word makes us look right at it. 

And I don’t mean a ‘frame-frame’ like you sometimes see at the weddings where people peek through a decorative picture frame as the photographer takes their photo. I mean finding elements in nature that can create a full or partial frame around your subject and make them really stand out.

Those frames can come in many shapes and sizes.  Look out for more than just physical shapes and formations – light, colour and texture can play the same way!

Check out the examples below – they should give you a good idea of what to look out for.

Lesson 2 Challenge

Today's challenge couldn't be simpler - capture a photo which uses either lines, or frames, OR BOTH! to guide the eye towards the subject! 

My advanced students - how about challenging yourself to capture some less obvious, maybe implied lines and frames??

Remember to post your effort to Facebook! 


Here is what we teach: 

Photography for Parents Fundamentals

Our flagship 6 week course which offers a solid foundation in photography with a firm focus on photographing children and gives you everything you need to start taking better photos of your family – from camera know-how to composition and understanding light.

This is for you if you are just starting in photography - perhaps all you used before was a phone camera or a point and shoot, or you have a better camera but you never dared to take it of Auto. OR you already have a level of knowledge about some level of skill with your camera either from being self-taught or having previously done some courses but lack in-depth understanding 

Photography for Parents - Advanced course

We put lots of emphasis on creativity, storytelling, style and light in this course – if you’re up for a challenge – this is for you!

Choose this course if you are already friends with your camera but want to learn how to shoot creatively in full manual, how to go beyond the basic composition rules and start expressing yourself through photography.


A completely vital skill for any photographer out there. We guide you through the endless possibilities that editing your images can bring – but we show you exactly how all the controls affect your images and how to achieve the effects you’re after.

We have two courses here - Editing in Lightroom for those taking first steps in photo editing and Editing in Photoshop - an advanced Editing course that will open a whole world of editing opportunities for you. Click below to find out more!

Shooting with flash

Scared of Flash? Never got good results from it? Not sure how it works with your camera? Thinking it’s bound to be complicated and just for studio work? This is the course for you! We show you how to work your flash and your camera – on and off camera! to get great, natural looking results

We recommend that this course is taken once you’re able to shoot in full manual so that you can fully appreciate how the two work together and how to control it. Please note you will need a detacheable flash in order to take part in the course.