How do I take a good picture in Boulder? Happily the guidance provided by the basic rules of composition work in the Valley and work everywhere else as well. They work if the camera is a phone or a “serious” professional camera. Do not underestimate the phone camera! Mine is often smarter than the fancier more impressive looking cameras.My favorite camera is the one I have at hand when I want it.

Does a picture have to have a classic composition to work? I believe not!  I enjoy pics of groups of things. The repeated shapes and colors make the mangoes magically merge into a coherent picture

Let’s focus on a couple of the basic rules of composition. First though, let’s start at the beginning.  What is it a picture of? That might sound trite, and it is just the opposite. With the bee, we know what I’m taking a picture of. A bee. What about a landscape? If the picture is not of something the viewer will have nothing to work with. They are left hanging, hoping for more and not finding it.
What one person may love another might not like at all. That includes the photographer!

Let’s dig right in. I like this bee photo for a number of reasons. First, unlike many of my pics, it is technically decent. It is in focus, the exposure is good, the subject is interesting with the pollen sacks adding an extra level of interest. The perspective is unusual; not a view we’d normally see, and the composition is based upon classic rules of composition.As to the composition, notice a few things. First, there are two strong diagonals formed by the body and by the top larger section of the model. The wings are about 1/3 of the way down, and the bee is generally balanced along the center of the picture. Did I think about that when I was taking the picture? Yes and no. Part of the decision to push the shutter was that it “looked right” to me in the viewfinder. Part of it was knowing that the rule of thirds, the use of diagonals, and the use of center lines left to right and top to bottom. And my favorite technique: take a LOT of pictures. Taking a lot of pics is more important with moving subject like the bee. Still subjects can be carefully framed, composed, studied, adjusted, reviewed, shot again, all with limitations imposed by the available light, and then edited as needed. The editing after the pic is taken is referred to as “post-production” work. When the bee won’t pose and hold the pose for a while so all of that can be done we’re back at “take a lot of pictures.”

Photography is a powerful form of visual art that allows individuals to express their unique perspectives and creativity. One of the key elements that can elevate a photograph from ordinary to extraordinary is composition. Mastering composition in photography is essential for capturing compelling and visually stunning images that stand out in a sea of snapshots. In this article, we will explore 7 secrets for taking pictures in your own style by mastering composition.

Notice the two main diagonals. The head gives me one, and the eyes give me the other. The overall “X” provides a solid composition, making the picture “look right.”

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a fundamental principle in photography composition that can instantly enhance the visual appeal of your images. By mentally dividing your frame into a 3×3 grid, with two vertical and two horizontal lines, you can strategically position key elements of your composition along these lines or at their intersections. This technique creates balance, harmony, and visual interest, drawing the viewer’s eye into the image. Drawing the viewer into the photo is key for me, since I value emotion over technical perfection.

Embracing the rule of thirds empowers photographers to break away from centering their subjects, resulting in dynamic and engaging compositions. Whether capturing landscapes, portraits, or still life, incorporating the rule of thirds can add depth and storytelling to your photographs, elevating them to a new level of artistry.

Leading Lines

Utilizing leading lines is a powerful composition technique that guides the viewer’s gaze through the image, creating a sense of depth and visual flow. These lines can be found in various forms, such as roads, rivers, fences, or architectural elements, and serve as a visual pathway that draws attention to the main subject or focal point of the photograph.

Photographers can leverage leading lines to direct the viewer’s perspective, evoke emotions, and accentuate the narrative within the frame. By carefully selecting and positioning these lines within the composition, photographers can craft visually captivating images that invite the audience to explore and connect with the photograph on a deeper level.

Notice the repeated horizontal lines and the location of the lines. They are strong 1/3 from the top and 2/3 from the top. This does NOT make it a good picture. I like it because the composition works to show the interesting subject of the picture. For me, the interest comes from the mimicking of the line of ducks, the lines in the mountains and the line of the clouds. These parallel lines at about 1/3 and 2/3 from the top work to make the picture pop.

Negative Space

Contrary to the instinct to fill the frame with the main subject, negative space plays a crucial role in composition by providing breathing room and visual balance within an image. This technique involves purposefully including empty areas or vast expanses of unoccupied space around the subject, allowing it to stand out and command attention.

Embracing negative space can evoke a sense of minimalism, tranquility, and contemplation, elevating the overall impact of the photograph. By strategically incorporating negative space, photographers can create compositions that exude elegance and sophistication, while allowing the subject to shine in its own visual realm. I am terrible at using negative space. I tend to “over-zoom,” crowding the edges of the frame. By pushing out the edges I am creating tension and excitement as the subject almost screams to be released from the frame. The brain naturally tries to “complete” the picture. What I am trying to improve is leaving space around the subject of the picture and leaving the actual framing to “post-production,” specifically cropping the picture. My brain does not work that way. I have to love what I’m seeing when I take the picture. That leaves me less room to adjust the framing. Over the years I have come to accept my own ouvre or eye. I have stopped fighting my penchant for over-zooming and more and more I go with the flow, where my eye/brain instructs me to go.

Frame within a Frame

The ‘frame within a frame’ composition technique involves using elements within the scene to create a natural frame around the main subject. This can be achieved through architectural structures, natural surroundings, or even human-made objects that encase the subject, drawing the viewer’s attention to the focal point while adding layers of visual interest to the photograph.

By employing this technique, photographers can add depth, context, and a sense of discovery to their images, inviting the audience to explore the intricate layers of the composition. The ‘frame within a frame’ approach not only enhances the visual storytelling of the photograph but also adds a creative and immersive dimension to the viewer’s experience.

The branches frame the Western Flicker, with the light accentuating the framing of the bird. The branches and the light make the bird pop from the picture. it gives life and action to the bird.

Mastering composition in photography is a journey of exploration, experimentation, and self-expression. By incorporating these 4+ secrets for taking pictures in your own style, photographers can elevate their craft, unleash their creativity, and capture breathtaking images that reflect their unique vision and artistic flair. Finally, and perhaps most important, not everyone will like every picture. Not everyone will like the pictures that I like. I might not like my own picture as much as other people. What’s the starting point? Decide what you are taking a picture of. Then, pay attention to what looks right to you! And remember you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I am certain that I don’t!

Let’s put these pieces together. For this dinosaur picture, I payed attention to very strong diagonal and to the position of the eye. If you want to take ONE thing from these thoughts, it is this. The eye! If the eye is in a great spot, the picture will probably work. If the eye is in focus, the picture will look focused. The eye of the photographer, the eye of the subject and the eye of the viewer come together to produce a pleasing picture.

Lenny Lensworth Frieling

Shared Knowledge is Power!

  • Senior Counsel Emeritus to the Boulder Law firm Dolan + Zimmerman LLP : (720)-610-0951
  • Former Judge
  • Photographer of the Year, AboutBoulder 2023
  • First Chair and Originator of the Colorado Bar Association’s Cannabis Law Committee, a National first.
  • Previous Chair, Boulder Criminal Defense Bar (8 years)
  • Twice chair Executive Counsel, Colorado Bar Association Criminal Law Section
  • NORML Distinguished Counsel Circle
  • Life Member, NORML Legal Committee
  • Life Member, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
  • Board Member Emeritus, Colorado NORML
  • Chair, Colorado NORML, 7 years including during the successful effort to legalize recreational pot in Colorado
  • Media work, including episodes of Fox’s Power of Attorney, well in excess of many hundreds media interviews, appearances, articles, and podcasts, including co-hosting Time For Hemp for two years.
  • Board member, Author, and Editor for Criminal Law Articles for the Colorado Lawyer, primary publication of the Colorado Bar Assoc. 7 Years, in addition to having 2 Colorado Lawyer cover photos, and numerous articles for the Colorado Lawyer monthly publication.
  • LEAP Speaker, multi-published author, University lectures Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, Denver University Law School, Univ. of New Mexico, Las Vegas NM, and many other schools at all levels.