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6 Exercises to Learn Photography Composition in Just 3 Days

Black and white minimalist photo of a male sitting on a bench

Composition is key in photography, shaping how viewers perceive your photos. In this guide, we’ll explore six beginner-friendly exercises to learn essential photography composition techniques in just three days.

Exercise 1: Rule of Thirds Exploration

This beginner-friendly exercise is designed to introduce you to the Rule of Thirds, a fundamental principle in photography composition that dramatically enhances visual interest and balance in your images. Understanding and applying this rule is a crucial step in your journey to master photography composition.

Portrait photo of a young man standing next to a library full of books, looking down and smiling.
An example of the Rule of Thirds composition technique applied in photography

Instructions

1. Begin by activating the grid feature on your camera’s viewfinder or LCD screen. This grid, which divides the frame into nine equal parts, is crucial for applying the Rule of Thirds in your compositions. If you’re unsure how to enable this feature on your camera, a quick online search can help. Simply type “how to enable grid line on [your camera model]” into a search engine, replacing “[your camera model]” with your specific camera type, such as “how to enable grid line on Sony A7C” or “how to enable grid line on Canon EOS Rebel T7.”

Photo of a Fujifilm x100v digital camera with rule of thirds grid enabled
Most modern digital cameras come equipped with a Rule of Thirds grid

2. Choose a compelling subject for your photograph. This could be anything from a person to an object or a feature in a landscape. Position this subject at one of the points where the grid lines intersect, rather than in the center of the frame. This off-center placement makes for a more dynamic and interesting composition.

black and white portrait photo with the rule of thirds grid showing
Example of a photo taken using the rule-of-thirds composition technique.

3. Take several photographs, experimenting with placing your subject at different intersection points across the grid. This practice will help you see how changing the position of your subject within the frame can alter the overall feel and engagement level of your photos.

4. Review your images to observe the impact of the Rule of Thirds. Notice how using this compositional rule can transform a simple photograph into a more compelling visual narrative, adding depth and interest.

Goal

To internalize the Rule of Thirds as a fundamental compositional technique, enhancing the visual appeal and balance of your photographs.

Duration

Allocate about 30 minutes for this exercise, allowing yourself to explore various subjects and compositions using the Rule of Thirds photography composition technique.

Here are some of the photos that I took that follow the Rule of Thirds composition technique:

Exercise 2: Leading Lines Technique

Dive into the captivating world of leading lines, a powerful compositional tool in photography that directs the viewer’s eye through the image, guiding it towards key points of interest. 

Leading lines can be anything in a scene that creates a path for the eye to follow, such as roads, pathways, fences, shorelines, or architectural elements. They serve to draw the viewer’s attention into the photograph, adding depth and perspective, and often leading them towards the main subject.

Here’s an example of a photo featuring leading lines that guide the viewer’s attention to the lighthouse, which is also positioned on the right vertical line of the Rule of Thirds grid:

Photo of a lighthouse. Photo utilizing leading lines composition technique
Leading lines composition technique example

Instructions

  1. Search for scenes that naturally incorporate leading lines. These can be found in both urban and natural environments and might include roads winding through a landscape, railings along a path, branches of a tree, or architectural features like doorways and windows.
  2. Position yourself to maximize the impact of these lines in your composition. This might involve changing your shooting angle or position to ensure the lines lead from the foreground towards your main subject or off into the distance, creating a sense of depth.
  3. Capture a series of photos, experimenting with how different types of leading lines (straight, curved, diagonal) and their placement within the frame affect the narrative and visual flow of your image. Play with how these lines can guide the viewer’s eye toward your intended focal point (point of interest in a photo).
  4. Review your images to evaluate how effectively the leading lines draw the viewer’s gaze into the photo, enhance the sense of depth, and contribute to the overall composition.

Goal

To proficiently use leading lines in your compositions, enriching your photographs with depth and guiding the viewer’s focus to key elements of the scene.

Duration

Depending on the number of different scenes you’d like to explore, this photography composition exercise could take an hour or more. I recommend setting yourself a goal to find 4 to 6 scenes with various types of leading lines that can be incorporated into a photo. For instance, look for footpaths, architectural elements, lines on building walls, and metal fences with lines leading to your subject, among others.

Play Video

Here’s an example of a photo of my wife that incorporates leading lines composition technique:

Portrait photo that follows leading lines composition technique
Notice how the lines on the wall are leading towards the eyes of the main subject in the photo.

Exercise 3: Frame Within a Frame Method

This photography composition exercise delves into the ‘Frame Within a Frame’ technique, an artistic method where you use elements within your scene to create a natural border around your main subject. This can be anything from architectural features like windows and archways to natural frames such as tree branches or rock formations.

This composition technique adds depth and context to your images, drawing the viewer’s eye directly to the main subject and providing a sense of scale and location. It’s particularly effective in adding layers to your composition, making the scene more intriguing and engaging.

For photography beginners, mastering this technique can significantly elevate the storytelling aspect of your photographs, as it encourages you to look beyond your subject and consider the overall photo composition and how different elements interact within your frame.

Portrait photo of a young woman wearing black sunglasses
Example of a portrait photo utilizing Framing composition technique

Instructions

  1. Scout for potential framing elements in your surroundings. These could be natural, like the overhanging branches of a tree, or man-made, such as the frame of a window or an archway. These elements should not only surround your subject but also complement it, adding to the story you want to tell with your photo.
  2. Experiment with positioning your subject within these natural frames. This may require you to move around to find the perfect angle where the frame encloses your subject effectively, enhancing its significance within the image.
  3. Take multiple shots, playing with different framing elements, subjects, and compositions. Each frame within a frame can create a unique narrative perspective, so try out various combinations to see how they change the photo’s context and focus.
  4. Review your collection of images to identify which framing techniques most effectively draw attention to your subject and enrich the overall composition. Pay attention to how the frame within a frame can lead to more focused and compelling imagery, offering a window into the world of your subject.

Goal

To adeptly utilize framing elements in your photography, creating depth, context, and focus in your photo compositions, thereby enhancing the visual storytelling of your photos.

Duration

I would recommend allocating at least 3 to 4 hours for this photography composition exercise, allowing yourself to explore various framing elements and their effects on your compositions.

I highly recommend you watch the following video from Mango Street on how to use subframing composition technique in your photography:

Play Video about YouTube video thumbnail about Subframing composition technique in photography

Here are a few photos that I took utilizing this easy photo composition technique:

Exercise 4: Symmetry and Patterns Discovery

This exercise is crafted to enhance your visual storytelling by uncovering the captivating world of symmetry and patterns in photography. Symmetry, where elements of the composition are mirrored on either side of an axis, brings a sense of balance and harmony to your images.

Patterns, with their repeating shapes, colors, or lines, can add intrigue and rhythm. Both elements can transform an ordinary scene into a visually striking photograph that captures the viewer’s attention.

By learning to identify and creatively use symmetry and patterns, you’ll add a powerful tool to your compositional toolkit, enabling you to create photographs that not only please the eye but also convey a deeper sense of order and beauty in the world around us.

Black and white photo of concrete round objects located in riga

Instructions

  1. Seek out environments or objects that showcase symmetrical arrangements or repeating patterns. Architectural structures often provide clear examples of symmetry, while nature is a rich source of intricate patterns.
  2. Position your camera to emphasize the symmetrical or patterned elements within your frame. For symmetry, you might need to align yourself perfectly with the center of your subject to capture its mirrored aspects. For patterns, consider angles that highlight the repetition and rhythm of the elements.
  3. Capture a variety of scenes, focusing on how the symmetry or pattern contributes to the overall balance and aesthetic appeal of the composition. Experiment with both natural and man-made subjects to appreciate the diverse ways in which symmetry and patterns manifest.
  4. Review your photographs to assess how effectively you’ve utilized symmetry and patterns to enhance the visual impact of your compositions. Reflect on the role these elements play in creating a more engaging and harmonious visual experience.

Goal

To develop a keen eye for symmetry and patterns in your surroundings and to understand how these elements can be used to create visually compelling and balanced photographs.

Duration

Ok, this one is a little harder, I would say that you need to allocate at least 3 to 4 hours, giving you ample time to explore and capture a range of symmetrical and patterned photo compositions.

Play Video about Symmetry in photography

Exercise 5: Depth of Field Exploration

Depth of field (DoF) in photography, is a key element that affects image focus and mood. Depth of field is influenced by your lens’s aperture, the distance to your subject, and the lens’s focal length.

A shallow depth of field, using a wider aperture (such as f/1.4), blurs the background and foreground, highlighting the subject. This is great for portrait photography or emphasizing details.

A deep depth of field, with a smaller aperture, brings clarity to the entire scene, ideal for landscapes or architectural photography.

Mastering DoF lets you creatively control focus in your compositions, enhancing your photographic storytelling.

Portrait photo of a young boy with a shallow depth of field
Portrait photo of my son Nikita taken with a shallow dept of field

Instructions

  1. Begin by setting your camera to Aperture Priority mode (often denoted as ‘Av’ or ‘A’) or Manual mode (‘M’), which gives you control over the aperture and, consequently, the depth of field.
  2. Choose a subject and position it with a distinguishable foreground and background to clearly observe the effects of changing the depth of field.
  3. Start with the widest aperture your lens allows (the smallest f-number, e.g., f/2.8) to create a shallow depth of field. Take a photo, focusing on your subject while allowing the background (and possibly the foreground) to blur.
  4. Gradually increase the aperture size (to larger f-numbers, e.g., f/8, f/16), taking a photo at each increment. Notice how the depth of field becomes deeper with each step, bringing more of the scene into focus.
  5. Review the series of photos to observe how different aperture settings affect the depth of field and the overall photo composition. Reflect on how the choice of depth of field can enhance the narrative or aesthetic quality of your images.

Goals

To gain a comprehensive understanding ofthe depth of field and its creative applications in photography, enabling you to manipulate focus with intention and enhance the storytelling aspect of your compositions.

Duration

Set aside approximately 1 hour for this exercise to thoroughly experiment with different aperture settings and analyze their impact on your photographs.

Here’s an example of how I took 3 photos of a Porsche 911 model car using different Aperture settings to clearly visualize the correlation between depth-of-field and aperture in photography.

Exercise 6: Negative Space Mastery

Dive into the concept of negative space in photography, a technique that leverages the empty areas in an image to spotlight the main subject. Negative space, whether it’s a clear sky, blank wall, or vast landscape, helps your subject to pop.

By skillfully using negative space, you can craft minimalist yet impactful images that draw the viewer’s focus to the subject with clear intent. This approach is about the strategic absence in the frame, offering balance, highlighting emotions, and fostering a contemplative viewing experience.

Negative space photography

Instructions

  1. Select a subject that can be easily isolated from its surroundings, such as a lone tree, a person against a plain background, or a simple object with a clean backdrop. The key is to find a setting where the negative space can be maximized to focus attention on your subject.
  2. Experiment with positioning your subject within the frame to maximize the negative space. This might involve moving closer to or further away from your subject, or adjusting your angle to include more of the empty space around the subject.
  3. Take multiple photographs, varying the amount of negative space in each to explore its effect on the composition and the viewer’s perception of the main subject. Pay attention to how the negative space shapes the mood of the image and directs focus to the subject.
  4. Review your images to see how the use of negative space contributes to the overall aesthetic of your photographs. Reflect on how this minimalist approach can lead to powerful, emotion-evoking images that speak volumes with less.

Goal

To harness the simplicity and visual impact of negative space in your compositions, creating images that are both minimalist and powerful, drawing the viewer’s eye directly to the subject with elegance and purpose.

Duration

I’d recommend allocating 2 to 3 hours for this photography composition technique. Walk around town searching for interesting and uncluttered locations that are suitable for minimalist-style photography using the negative space composition technique.

Conclusion: Beginner-Friendly Exercises for Learning Photography Composition Techniques

By completing these six practical photo composition exercises, you will be able to significantly improve your photography skills. 

Remember, mastering photography is an ongoing journey of learning, experimenting, and honing your skills. As you apply these techniques regularly, you’ll start viewing the world with an artistic eye, capturing not just scenes but stories and emotions.

Keep exploring different subjects and perspectives, and feel free to revisit these photo composition exercises for inspiration. Your unique journey in photography composition offers countless chances to express yourself and share your view with the world.

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Aleksandrs Karevs

Aleksandrs Karevs

Hi, my name is Aleksandrs and I am a full-stack digital marketer passionate about digital photography. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V. Read full story here.

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Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

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