5 Tips to Find the Right Photo Composition to Tell Your Stories

 In Best Practices

181901011, Xsandra

If you’re even somewhat familiar with photography, you’ve likely heard of the concept of composition. In simplest terms, composing a photo means “laying it out” before you take it. It means considering what the subject of your photo is, and positioning that subject in frame, as it relates to the background.

This is easy to consider if you’re a photographer, but how do the principles of composition help you to tell your stories in marketing projects or brand work? To get some tips on using composition to your advantage in your designs, we got in touch with Paul Braga, Senior Designer for iStock and photographer. Here’s what he suggests.

1. Be sure there’s a clear separation between your subject and your background


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“When the background is out of focus in an image, it tends to keep the viewers eyes on the subject that is in focus,” says Braga. This may sound obvious but ensuring a clean division between what’s in focus and what isn’t is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to direct your audience’s eyes where you want them to look. This is particularly useful for portraits, product shots, and action photography.

2. Leave room for text using negative space


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Building on the blurry background point, Braga points out that all of that negative space can be used for other design elements. “A common practice in advertising is using an image with a blurry background so you can lay text in that space,” he says. “Text is much easier on a blurry background, and it also ensures that your subject is still a key focus of the photo.”

3. Be very clear of what (and where) your subject is when choosing stock images


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“In its simplest terms, composition could be described as the relationship between the subject matter you are trying to capture and its background,” says Braga. When it comes to choosing stock imagery that’s already been composed by the photographer, this means knowing very clearly what your subject is in a given photo and where it’s positioned. “The message you are trying to convey can easily get lost,” says Braga. “Make sure the subject of your image has room to breathe and is not cropped too close to the edge of the frame.”

4. Keep the placement and dimensions of your end project in mind


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On the subject of cropping, Braga has a lot of advice on composition as it relates to the location of the subject in your image. “It can be very hard to find an image that works in, say, half a dozen different banner sizes,” says Braga. “Always remember to choose an image based on the space you’re trying to fill, and if you’re cropping an image of a product make sure logos and key elements are still in frame and aren’t too close to the edge of those frames.” He goes on to underscore that this can take a lot of trial and error. Finding an image with a clear subject, and lots of negative space around that subject, can make it a lot easier to adjust the image for hyper-specific or even multiple placements.

5. Use the rule of thirds to find new compositional ideas

1178217625, MundusImages

You may have heard about the rule of thirds, but even if you haven’t, you’ve definitely experienced it. On your smartphone, you usually have the option to turn on a grid when taking photos that feature two vertical and two horizontal lines intersecting on your camera’s viewfinder. This creates nine quadrants, and these guides are helpful for positioning subjects in a frame in more interesting ways than, say, just centering them.

When it comes to stock photography, this comes into play as you look at background components (such as the horizon line on landscape photos) or subject placement (such as a car on left third of a frame, with the appearance of movement toward the right). These positions provide a sense of symmetry, but also tell a story. “Aligning your subject in the lower left or lower right quadrant can create an interesting composition,” says Braga. “Photographers use the rule of thirds to more easily place the subject in focus while giving the background room to breathe.”

Ready to dig into your search for well-composed photos? Here are a few of our favorites right now.

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