This week I'm going to demystify composition for you. Contrary to what the noisy photographers say, it's not something that take years of practice. All you need to do is understand what the 3 elements of a photograph are, and then decide how much of the whole frame each should take up in whatever image you are about to make:

1. Foreground, 2. Background, and 3. Subject.

The balance between the 3 key elements

What makes for a pleasing photograph? What combination of foreground, subject and background best speaks the message you have?

1. Foreground

Traditionally you'd have a smaller foreground which leads the viewer into the image, introducing the subject, offering support but not overwhelming.

2. Background

Usually your background offers context and maybe contrast, but certainly doesn't distract attention from the subject.

3. Subject

One subject please. Just one.

S B F.jpg

Whole frame

Once you've arranged your elements in the frame, take a step back and look at the whole image. This is where photographers sometimes squint their eyes to get a bird's eye view of everything and check the balance between all the parts - the foreground, the background and the subject.

What is the path through the photograph that the viewer's eye will take? Is it what you wanted? If not, what can you change to fix it?

Using viewpoint to change the balance between the 3 elements

Your point of view is the first, and possibly only, technique you need to change the balance between foreground, subject and background.

Without even moving your feet you can drastically change each element just by moving the camera higher or lower. If you allow yourself to walk around your subject, an infinite number of foreground-subject-background combinations will open up.

Your job as the photographer is to pick the one that you want. You don't just point and shoot any more. You think, visualise, test and repeat until you have the image you can see in your head.


Using the same subject, create these 5 completely different photographs, using only a change in viewpoint between images (no changing lenses). The images don't have to be beautiful ones you would like to keep — this exercise is designed only to demonstrate the extremes of composition.

1. Mostly subject

2. No foreground at all

3. Mostly foreground

4. Mostly background

5. A pleasing balance between all three

Use any subject, indoor or out, flash or no flash, whatever you fancy.

The key thing this week is to move your camera. Try shooting from underneath or directly above if you need to. Move closer and further away, and change the angle of the camera.

Don't worry about aperture, shutter speed and all the rest this week if you want a break from the technicals. Shoot on auto if you want to, or just use your phone. We'll come back to aperture again in a couple of weeks when I remind you how to blur the background. For this week I just want you to start moving with your camera, and seeing what effect it has on the balance between subject, background and foreground.

The workbooks

If you like to hold a book in your hands you might prefer using the A Year With My Camera workbooks. Designed to be written in, they will create a record of your 12-month journey. Search “A Year With My Camera” on your local Amazon store or click here to download a trial chapter: