Angle & Focal Length


Perhaps the most common compositional mistake is to take a photo from the wrong angle. If you see something that you think might make a good photo, don’t just point the camera a snap away. Pause for a moment and think about what you actually want to see in the picture, and what would be the best way to capture it. Take this shot for example:

This display of fuit and veg has some good elements. The light is great, it has plenty of colour, and some interesting shapes and textures. However shot from this angle it is completely uninteresting, just a snap of some fruit. However if we get down lower and in closer, we find this view:

OK, it would have been good to get the strawberries in as well, but here the contrast in shape and colour between the melons and the pineapple stalks makes for a much more striking composition, and the slightly blurred price tag in the background adds a nice finishing touch.

One of the best uses for this tip is when taking photos of children or animals. If you kneel down and shoot from their height you’ll get much better results than if you stand up and just snap away, because all you get then is photos of the tops of their heads.

Back in my magazine days, readers would regularly send me their latest photos, and I would estimate that around 95% of them were of ducks or swans, always shot from the river bank. There are many ducks in the world, and I am now very familiar with how they look from above.

The best wildlife photographers know that to get a good picture of an animal you have to share its environment, so if you really want to photograph ducks, make a bit of an effort like this guy and try to get down closer to the water level. You may risk getting your feet wet, but you’ll get a much better shot.

Focal Length

You can use your camera’s zoom lens to improve composition. Here’s a photograph of a striking and unusual building, taken with a wide-angle lens:

While it does capture the whole of the building’s unusual shape and it’s location in its surroundings, there’s too much else going on in the picture. The car in the foreground, the trees, the roadsigns and the lamp post are too distracting, so it becomes unclear what exactly is the subject of the photograph.

By moving to a different location a short distance away, and zooming in to exclude the surrounding scenery, we can get a much tighter composition. Now there’s no question about the subject of the photograph. Note that the position of the unusual glass rotunda also follows the Rule of Thirds.

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