How to Improve Compositions

For many artists, the topic of composition is elusive. What makes a good composition? How do I know what changes to make to improve my image? Here are a few quick ideas.

1. Make Composition Studies

Study compositions that stand out to you. Look at photography, cinematography, painting, and the real world around you. Here are a few of the studies I’ve made in the past. Some are straight copies, looking to capture the effect. while others are more analytical.

2. Read Books on Composition

You and I are not the first individuals to wrestle with composition. Read about what has already been discovered! For example, Anthony Waichulis has written an excellent Primer on Pictorial Composition based on latest research. This is guaranteed to give you new insights. Here are the three books that have been most useful to me:

3. Talk About or Teach Composition

One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. If you have an interest in composition, you will quickly gain a deeper understanding from trying to explain what you know to someone else. Even if you don’t see yourself as an expert yet, your thoughts can be helpful to someone with less experience. Whom can you talk to (online or offline) today?

4. Get Nerdy

This is where I will lose most readers…
But to you, beautiful nerds: behold the Morphological Analysis Template for Composition!

composition morphological box analysis

I’ve made this spreadsheet to try and make sense of all the elements at play in an image. This is very much a work in progress and most of it will not make sense to you. But it might give you some ideas.

I’ve used it to troubleshoot compositions as well as planning what shape a new image should take.

If you’re unfamiliar with Morphological Analysis, take a look at the Wikipedia page.
You can download the template here and take it for a spin!


3 thoughts on “How to Improve Compositions”

  1. Massimiliano
     ·  Reply

    Dear Dorian,
    Thanks so much for your articles, I discovered them quite recently and they are helpful, to say the least. I am very curious about your Morphological analysis template and strategy, I was wondering how exactly do you use your template in practice and what kind of benefits do you derive from it. I was arranging something similar to what you did, albeit much less refined, but I couldn’t figure out exactly how to employ it effectively, I have a feeling that I am touching something useful and interesting, but barely touching.
    Thanks again!

    • Dorian
       ·  Reply

      Hi Massimiliano,
      I sometimes use the morphological box to help me narrow down the options when making decisions about a composition. But each picture has a life of its own and might lead me to a different place than what might “make sense” at the outset. Play! Experiment!

  2. Teresa
     ·  Reply

    Your idea for using MA for composition is fantastic!!! 😍😍😍
    Super generous of you to share this, Dorian! Thank you!

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