Second only to light, composition is vitally important yet one I find increasingly difficult to teach. To some, composition comes naturally; they have ‘an eye for a photograph’ so to speak. When taking an photo, they know what to include and what to exclude; they know where each elements of the image should sit; they know how much space should be left on the sides; they know what looks good and what doesn’t. 

So how do you drastically improve your photo compositions???  

Here are my 5 Proven Tips:


It’s all too easy these days with digital to run around, snap away and thinking that because you’re taking lots of photos, some of them will be good! To the contrary I find! I know that digital has made me lazy. If I told you it costs $5 every time you take a photo, would you slow down a little more and think more about your compositions and what you’re photographing?

When I was shooting with my panoramic film camera, it was $10 per roll of film, plus $10 in processing, with four frames per roll. That’s $5 per image! Do you think I was careful about taking images - you bet! Was I pissed off when I got the exposure wrong? Left the lens cap on? Forgot to wind the film on from the previous frame? Sure was!


Use a tripod to help you slow down, for example, and really nail the composition is critically evaluating what’s in the frame and what needs to be excluded. Challenge yourself to take a few photographs as possible. Be selective in your approach.


With teaching photography over the years, I have noticed that beginners tend to include WAY too much in their images. They see a good photograph and feel the need to everything in it. It’s like they have visual stimulation overload!
For me, it’s all about what to EXCLUDE, leaving only the good bits. If you find your compositions are weak, look to see what is important and what inspired you to take the photograph – include that! Then look at what’s in the frame that is distracting from those elements and get rid of them! 


Leading on from the point above, I’ve found through critical analyses of my photographs that there’s barely more than three elements in the frame. If I’m down the coast, it may be the beach, water and the sky. That’s it! There’s not a boat, a bird, a plane, the tree over to the far right, etc. Stick with three elements or less! 


If you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens (35mm focal length or less), which I use for most of my landscapes, make sure you include these three elements - foreground, middle ground, and background. I point my wide-angle lens down, with the bottom of the frame only a few metres in front. I include a strong foreground - something interesting that’s pleasing to the eye like a river, a shoreline, rocks with leading lines - then I make sure there’s something interesting in the middle ground - about 10-15 metres away - then background for my eye to rest on. Oh and with your foregrounds, make sure they’re just a few metres from your camera – no more!


If I’m struggling for compositions, I look for an image within an image. What do I mean by that? I might be at a location that I know is good - say the Great Ocean Road - but I’m just not seeing anything interesting...it’s not hitting me in the face, the WOW factor just isn’t there. I put on my telephoto lens - my 70-200mm - and start picking out features in the landscape that are interesting. I love filling the frame with the same subject - a row of trees, ripples on the water, clouds.

Don’t just look for the obvious shot because it may not be there. Sometimes you have to go hunting and zooming in can help you do this.


Join me, Tom Putt, on one of my many landscape photography workshops. I'd love to teach you more and help you improve your photography.