Are You Guilty of These Five Big Composition Mistakes?

What's the most important thing to master in photography? I asked this question to ten photographers and eight gave the same answer: composition. More than gear or technical know-how, understanding composition and avoiding common errors that many people make will help you improve your photography more than anything else.

Composition is quite possibly the most important part of photography. What you include in the frame, what you choose to exclude, and where you position your elements are arguably more important than anything else in creating a photo that will stand the test of time as far as quality goes. I mean, we can all talk about gear until there's no oxygen left in our lungs but if we look back at photographic history, many of the most iconic photos have stood the test of time because of the composition and the stories the photos told. Their longevity most definitely isn't because of how technically superior the lenses were, or because the softness of the bokeh blur was uber-creamy and buttery (who creates such ridiculous vernacular?). If you have a great composition and good light in your image, you can get away with a few technical deficiencies much more than if you have an insanely sharp, crisply colored photo that is horribly composed.

But what are some common compositional errors that hold many photographers back? In this video by Pierre. T. Lambert, he discusses five errors that are often repeated by many photographers of all levels. These are not just for beginners and I have to be honest and say that I am sometimes guilty of the first error he touches on - overthinking your composition. Give the video a watch because there are some valuable things to think about in there. 

And what other composition mistakes do you think people make that you see far too often? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. 

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6 Comments

Jerome Brill's picture

His first two tips of cropping and shooting a little wider I agree on to a point. Cropping has definitely helped me see what does and doesn't work. Although over time you should end up cropping less as you learn to set up your shots. If not, you're not using the sensor you paid for.

It's much easier to use this crop method when you're shooting with a high resolution camera. You could use a lower mp camera but your results may end up being more of a concept than something that is printable or maybe even sharable.

I completely agree on less is more tip though.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes I agree completely with your views on cropping - the more you have in your frame allows you more wiggle room to crop. On the other hand, if you're cropping so much out of your image that it hardly resembles the original shot, then your composition probably wasn't quite right in the first place. Cropping should be a touch-up tool rather than a wholesale fix tool

Duane Klipping's picture

I wonder if he ever got Woody's girlfriend on the Cheers Sitcom.

K G's picture

I can't take this guy seriously, the video starts with a very badly composed shot of him with the Eiffel tower growing out of his head! Also, excessive cropping recommended? Cropping is fine when allowed for, but there's a reason most pros stick to the 'get it right in camera' rule, because the more you crop the less quality your end image will have. I'd suggest skip this one tbh for any beginners.

Nate B's picture

This rule is more like when possible, get it right in camera; if not possible, just get it in camera. You go to print/post with the shots you get. That isn't emphasized in the video, which jumps to post cropping technique without adding much context.

Beginners would do well to understand and accept they're not always going to get it right in camera. Doesn't mean you're a bad photographer. Time isn't on our side. For styles other than street, candid, press, and those documenting ephemeral events, getting the shot that's good enough is better than missing it. Sometimes you will miss it. And sometimes you won't want to take it at all. The book Photos Not Taken expands upon this in many ways.

There's still some sensible advice in the video regardless of one's feelings on the opening shot. However, if you're being selective with your time, there may be better ways to get the education.

yanpekar's picture

Although some tips are good, they could have been summarised in much less time and in a more straight to the point way. I wanted to stop watching after 1 min 30 sec, during which he still did not get to the point. Badly composed video, to be honest. Speaking of composition...