Photography Tips: Positioning & Framing a Composition with Mike Browne

Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, it is fundamental to know the basic of positioning and framing a composition in photography. It can mean the difference between an ‘ok’ photograph or one that blows your friends and family away. Below are some tips for positioning and framing a composition for your photographs:


Many photographers go out to shoot with an idea of what they want to achieve in their head. If you have a specific landmark, person or landscape you are photographing it can make it easier to visualise the sort of compositions you want to achieve.

However, a lot of other photographers will go out and shoot on-the-go. There is probably a level of pre-visualisation going on still though. Think about it – if you are out and see a beautiful landscape at sunset that you want to capture, you will probably automatically think about how you want the image to look.

Landscape vs Portrait

An important aspect to think about when thinking about framing a photograph is whether to shoot in a portrait or landscape format. There are no real set rules for this as it comes down to personal preference and the subject matter. For example, photographs of stunning views or cityscapes are usually shot in a landscape format so that the whole view can be shown. Whereas headshots are commonly shot in a portrait format in order to focus mainly on the person’s face.


Negative Space

What is negative space? The area surrounding the main subject of a photograph is referred to as ‘negative space.’ This technique is often used to emphasise the subject of a photograph as it makes it stand out from the background. It can draw your eye to the subject and prevent the image from looking cluttered of too ‘busy.’



When framing a photograph, be careful with clipping. What is clipping? It is when you accidentally cut off part of the subject without realising. This can of course be done on purpose, however it can be so easy to clip part of the subject off and find out when it is too late. If shooting with a zoom lens, make sure to check all of the subject matter is in the composition before pressing the shutter, and then if you feel you want to crop parts out you can zoom in or out to do so.


From every angle you shoot your subject from, the lighting will change. Your main light source, whether that be the sun or studio lights, will create shadows and highlights, and these are important to pay attention to when capturing your photograph.

For example, if you are shooting portraits of someone on a sunny day, you can get different effects from shooting at different angles. If they are facing the sun, the images will be brighter as the light is directly on them, creating a more contrasted and bright image. Whereas, if they had their back to the sun you would end up with a more atmospheric photograph as they will have a ‘halo’ or backlit effect from the sun hitting the space around them.

Lighting can be difficult however, especially when shooting outdoors as you cannot control the sun or clouds. Always keep an eye on what the shadows are doing on your subject matter. For example, shooting a portrait in the sunshine at a wrong angle can cause very unflattering shadows on the face and body.

Zoom & The Rule of Thirds

You can get two types of lenses – prime lenses or zoom lenses. A zoom lens gives you a wide range of close-up/far away options, whereas a prime lens has only one fixed focal length. When it comes to composition and framing a photograph, it is important to think about the type of lens you need to use.

A zoom lens offers much more versatility as you can shoot a wide angle one minute and closer up the other without changing your lens. You can take a variety of shots from standing on one spot. On the other hand, prime lenses offer a wider range of aperture options resulting in being able to handle low light situations and giving you a shallower depth of field creating a ‘bokeh’ effect which is highly sought after.

What is the rule of thirds? It is a guideline which assists the composition of a photograph. The basic principle behind this ‘rule’ is to break the image down into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, so that you have a 9 part grid. Some cameras have grids integrated into their viewfinder which can be very helpful. Do keep in mind that rules are meant to be broken, so if you don’t follow this it doesn’t mean your images are no good by any means. The rule of thirds is just one technique for composing a photograph.

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