Improving Composition in Your Photography

An arrangement of colorful barrels, stacked by the side of the road in Ubud, Bali make for a vivid and symmetrical composition.

Here's a photo of some barrels I found stacked up by the side of the road in Ubud, Bali. It appears to be a very simple image, and that's good because simple images are easier for the viewer to read and, as a consequence, easier for the photographer to communicate the story, message or theme explored.

So with the above image as a case in point we understand that, at one level, what we are looking at is a series of colorfully painted barrels. Yet the photo is at least as much an exploration of image design as it is a picture of barrels. The secret to making this a successful, and in this case that means dynamic, photo is the composition that underpins it. Let's explore that composition by breaking it down into separate elements.


A key element in the success of this photo is the use of shape. And, in this case, we're talking about the circle. The image uses the shape of the circle, in a repetitive manner, to create a harmonious pattern throughout the photo. Repetition and pattern are also elements of composition that, in this case, work to elevate the circular shapes within this image.


Usually the most accessible element of composition in a successful color photo are the colors within the photo and the relationships they have to each other. The use of contrasting warm and cool colors is a dominant feature within this photo. Notice how the cool green and blues amplify the warmth of the reds and pinks. It's just so easy and fun to make photos in this way.


To make this photo I utilized a 24 mm focal length on my full frame Canon 5D Mark II camera. The wide angle view offered by this focal length allowed me to move in very close to the foreground barrels without cropping out too many of their horizontally stacked counterparts in the background.

Despite the fact that the vertical and horizontally placed barrels were pushed right up against each other the 24mm focal length allowed me to create the illusion of space between them. It did this was by exaggerating the size of what was closest to the lens, the foreground barrels, and, as a consequence, making the horizontally stacked barrels in the background appear smaller and, therefore, further away than they actually were.

Ever seen what appeared to be an expansive home interior only to arrive at your dream home and be faced with the reality of the room in question? Wide angle lenses and real estate photography go hand in hand.

Next time you're out and about photographing try to include some of these simple elements of composition into your own photography. With practice the composition of your photographs will improve and, its reasonable to suggest, your interest in the world around you will likely be heightened. That's how it works for me.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru