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Composing better photos

Image of the August 2018 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
August 2018 Issue

Concepts like subject and composition are important in any image, and they can be further refined with a range of creative tweaks.

Lead Lines

How to guide your viewer’s attention to the subject is one of the most important challenges for a creative photographer. Lead lines, like trails, rivers or fences, guide the viewer through the image. But even terrain features like trees, rocks or shadows can be lined up to direct the viewer’s attention.


Ensure your subject is easily visible and does not disappear in a distracting background. Good separation can be achieved through high contrast (a dark subject before a white background), colour (a blue jacket on yellow grass) or through micro contrast (a busy subject in front of a uniform background).

 Negative space

Avoid creating images that are too busy. A calm space for the viewer’s eyes to rest upon will add balance and further emphasise your subject. In mountain photography, negative space can be found in a blue sky, in shadows, or still bodies of water. 

Shooting into the light

Including the sun adds dramatic extremes of light. Keep in mind that some lenses do not deal well when pointed into the sun.

About this photo

I loved the dragon’s tooth rock formation, and there was never a question that it would be my subject. The semi-circle of bright grass adds a lead line, guiding the viewer from the bottom of the frame to the rock. Coincidentally, it also connects the person on the left to the rest of the frame. The composition features simple thirds, split into foreground, midground and background. Following the lead line, the viewer will eventually find the person on the left. He is not the best example of separation, but as a secondary subject he is not overly important. He acts as an emotional anchor that allows the viewer to identify with the image and think, ‘Wish I was there!’.

Camera: Fujifilm X-T2
Settings: 36mm, ISO400, f2.8, 1/125s

 – Dennis is a Christchurch-based photographer and teaches photography at www.heroworkshops.com