Video: Four common composition mistakes and what to do instead

When you’re first starting out, the great big world of photography composition can seem like a long list of rules and a bunch of videos where photographers paste grids on top of iconic photos. It’s all a bit abstract. So if you’re looking for concrete advice, this video by photographer Evan Ranft is a much better place to start.

In the video, Evan discusses four common composition mistakes many photographers make, and then shows you how to fix them. Each tip is accompanied by a very useful “do this not that” before and after, and the advice is genuinely a lot more helpful than slapping a bunch of grids and golden ratio spirals on top of famous photos.

You can check out the video up top for a full rundown with before and after images, but the tips (in short) are:

  1. Double Subject – Don’t place your main subject side-by-side with an interesting background feature, it will split your viewer’s focus. Emphasize a single subject instead.
  2. The Look Out – If your subject is on one side of your photograph, have them look into, not out of, the frame. A subject looking out of the frame divides your photo in half, leaving a bunch of confusing negative space. If they’re looking into the frame, their gaze will balance out your composition.
  3. Tangent Lines – Avoid having anything in your background draw lines through your subject and scene. Use the lines of your photo to lead your viewer’s eye TO your subject instead.
  4. Being Lazy – Not the most obvious composition tip, but it counts: don’t be lazy. Once you’ve picked a subject, find an interesting composition. Don’t just take the easiest, most convenient photo in that moment

There you go: a few simple but effective tips that help create photos that emphasize your subject and lead your viewer where you want them to go. As Ranft says in the video, these are easy mistakes to correct, you just have to be aware you’re doing them.

To see more tips and how-tos from Evan, head over to his YouTube channel. And if you have your own simple composition tip (or common mistake) to share, drop it in the comments!

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