A Crash Course with Little Kin Photography: Mastering Composition

Hi, I’m Polly a mother to two kiddos and a baby and family photographer at Little Kin Photography. I'm based just outside of Richmond, London.

I’m running a mini crash course for Enfants Terribles Magazine covering the basic theory and principles of photography. This course is designed for keen beginners, anyone with a DSLR camera who wants to experiment. I’m hoping to equip you with the knowledge you'll need in order to push yourself behind the lens and take photographs you feel really proud of. Whilst I’ll mostly be covering DSLR photography I’m planning a post on i-phone photography for those of you who don’t have a camera or for the people out there who just want to take great everyday shots on your phone.

Last month I talked about how to shoot in manual mode. I had some really great feedback on that post from you guys and I hope you're all finding shooting in manual is starting to become more instinctive and your pictures are starting to be more tailored to the look you're trying to achieve simply by having more control over them. 

Now that you've got the hang of your camera's settings I want to talk about composition. Composition can really make or break a shot and there are some very simple principles on framing that can really make the difference between an average and an exceptional photograph. I've detailed 6 of these principles below. 

1) Level your horizon lines

Whenever your lining up a shot look for the horizon line and line it up to make sure it is straight. A wonky horizon is very distracting to the eye whereas a straight one will enable the viewer to see the subject more and will make the whole composition feel more harmonious.

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2) Play with proportion

If you're photographing a baby or a child it's really effective to demonstrate how small the child is in comparison to their environment. Play around with proportion. Don't be tempted just to shoot close into your subject. Giving plenty of space around them can create a really dramatic look and feel to a shot. In the image below I wanted my son to be almost dwarfed by the setting he was in so I placed him towards the bottom of the image and crouched down so I was shooting up at the scene a little bit. By doing this I was able to frame the shot with the trees and make him feel small in comparison. In the beach shot below I was able to shoot down onto the scene and still place the subject towards the bottom of the image so the viewer can see how vast the space beyond him is right into the sea and horizon beyond.

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3) The Rule of Thirds

Don't be tempted to always centre your subject. Whilst centring can be really effective, shooting the subject off to one side can also create a lot of visual intrigue and can help to build more of a story in an image by setting a scene and the context around the subject. By putting the baby to the side of the shot below you get a sense of what she is looking out at and how small she is in comparison to the beach around her. This principle is called The Rule of Thirds and basically means you break the image up into three sections and place the subject either in the first or third section. Our brains respond really well to this placement - it's pleasing to the eye.

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4) Use Lines to draw the viewers eye into the image

Lines can be found everywhere from walls, furniture, trees and buildings. Use the lines in front of you to help you create a interesting composition with depth. You can use lines horizontally, vertically or diagonally and any of these, or a combination of them within one image can really help to draw a viewer deeper into the shot. In the black and white image below there is a horizontal curved line of trees and then a diagonal subtle path cutting up through the image to break into the horizontal line.

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5) Shoot at different angles to explore perspective

Experiment with shooting up and down at your subjects as well as straight at them. Food and still life is really suited to shooting down a bit more on the content but I also find shooting babies and children can work really well if shot from above to give an interesting angle and to illustrate how little they are, I love to photograph newborns from above for this very reason.

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 6) Shoot the details, sometimes showing less tells more of a story

I love to shoot the little details when I am photogrpahing newborns, babies and children. Their toes, their hands, the way a mother is holding her little one. These shots always move people and help them notice the little things they might otherwise not see. 

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You can see more of Polly's photography work through her blogportfolio or Instagram feed