November 02, 2021

What makes a photo composition successful? Part V: Check Your Edges!

By Lars Gesing
What makes a photo composition successful? Part V: Check Your Edges!

This is the fifth part in a six-part online photography tutorial and education series teaching you how to create great compositions with any camera and how to quickly start to improve your photography. Click to read parts I & II & III & IV. And if you love this kind of content, click here and make sure you are subscribed to my free “The Art of Seeing” newsletter.

Okay, so in the last part of learning online how to create better and more impactful compositions and improve your photography overall, we covered the fact that you absolutely have to check for your highlights to make sure they serve a purpose and are not distracting. (Click here to read the blog post again if the details are a little fuzzy).

Today’s lesson is ALL about those distractions in your compositions. This is another one of those mistakes I see photographers make All. The. Time., even a surprising number of folks who have been at this for a while now, as well as students in my in-the-field workshops.

This is what I am talking about: Checking the edges of your frame, making sure there are no weird things sticking out. 

Remember when we talked about simplicity as a way to create pleasing, soothing compositions that invite the viewer to spend more time with your photograph instead of getting stressed out and leaving? 

Well, distractions add to that stress, because they lower that soothing simplicity. You want to make sure everything that ends up in your frame serves a purpose. A random brand sticking into the right side of your frame without it serving that purpose is unacceptable. We are not including things in our frame “just because they are there.” Every element in our frame is there because we asked ourselves: “Why do I want to photograph this”, and we had a good enough reason to put the camera on a tripod and start framing the scene. 

So… if that random branch, that random fence post, whatever it is, is in your frame, your job is to reframe the composition… to slightly move to the left or the right, to zoom in a little bit more, whatever it takes. You want clean edges of your frame. Nothing says beginning photographer like not taking care of this issue.

I am not trying to sound like a stickler, or militant about enforcing this rule… But it is so, so important, because, again: We aim to create a piece of art with our photography (because we are expressing ourselves through our photography). Art is supposed to soothe the soul of those who engage with it. Distractions limit that experience. 

Think about it differently: Your photographs are an invitation to the viewer to step through a portal, to enter a world that’s different from their current reality. Well… What kind of door are you more likely to step through: The one that swings wide open and offers an unobstructed view of what’s on the other side? Or one that does open but then you have to shove aside a bunch of prickly branches to get a better glimpse of what’s behind them?

Don’t make your viewers work to even get to a point where they can start responding to your image emotionally.

PS: If you have questions about this — or thoughts — post them in the comments. If you found this content by chance (thanks, Google…) and want more like it, CLICK HERE to sign up for my free “The Art of Seeing” newsletter!