Six composition mistakes you didn’t know you were making and how to fix them

Feb 15, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Six composition mistakes you didn’t know you were making and how to fix them

Feb 15, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Composition is one of the things that many photographers struggle with. The technical side of photography is pretty straightforward, and while there are “rules” to composition, it’s a largely subjective and artistic aspect. This makes it more difficult. We don’t always see the best composition right away. Sometimes, we ignore elements of the image that we don’t notice until we get back home and see them on our computer screens.

But how can you fix it? In this video, photographer Saurav Sinha takes a look at six common composition mistakes you could be making and how you can fix them.

Saurav begins by explaining exactly what composition is. The dictionary definition is “the nature of something’s ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up”, which seems pretty close to what it means in photography. Figuring out if all those “ingredients” are correct in a photograph, though, can be tricky and we’ve all taken shots that we thought were amazing at the time, looking back at them on a tiny 3″ screen but looked terrible once we got them home and onto a large monitor.

The list in this video is perhaps a little different to some composition tips and techniques videos you might have seen. The mistakes are ones you probably don’t even know you’re making until somebody – like Suarav – points them out to you. We’re taught (told?) to get so much right in camera. As much as we possibly can. Sometimes, though, the limits of the camera don’t allow us to get the shots we really want. And sometimes, the limits are within ourselves.

  • 1:00 – Mistake #1 – Shooting too tight
  • 2:26 – Mistake #2 – Positioning of the subject
  • 3:38 – Mistake #3 – Not using panorama
  • 5:21 – Mistake #4 – Distracting elements
  • 6:44 – Mistake #5 – Underestimating the crop tool
  • 8:36 – Mistake #6 – Not self-analysing

The first one is probably the one that applies most to me. I used to shoot film, and when I made the move to digital, my Nikon D100 DSLRs only had a resolution of 6-megapixels. This was already much lower than I liked, and even 18×12 prints didn’t look quite as they did when shot on 35mm. These days, with the massive resolutions of modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, shooting a little wider to give more cropping options in post isn’t a big deal. You’ve still got plenty of resolution left. But it’s a tough mindset to break sometimes.

Mistake #4 is one I’ve been guilty of more times than I can remember in the past, shooting location portraits. You get so focused on your subject, the mood you’re getting out of them and how they look in the images that you don’t notice that bag of trash sitting in the background. Perhaps, as Suarav says of one photo in the video, there’s a slight branch in the way of the subject that you don’t notice. It becomes obvious later on, though, after it’s too late to reshoot.

Some of the advice is about fixing things on the spot to give you more options in post. Other advice is reminding you what options are available to you in post to be able to shoot with those tools in mind, knowing what you can do to them afterwards.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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