Get Inspired With These Composition Assignments

Get Inspired With These Composition Assignments

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I’ve written lots of articles about photographic composition over the years. But how do you go about learning these concepts and putting them into action? One answer is to set yourself a series of assignments, exploring one aspect of composition at a time.

This method is so effective that I wrote my book 100 Composition Assignments to give you over a year’s worth of assignments and briefs to follow to improve your composition skills.

The book is structured into twenty broad themes, with five assignments for each theme.

Today I’d like to share some of my favorite assignments from the book with you. The theme is listed in brackets after the assignment.

These assignments will boost your composition skills. Some of them are easy. None of them are complicated. Most of them are challenging. All of them are designed to help you become a better photographer through stronger composition.

To give you a taste of what’s in the book here are ten of my favorite assignments.

Composition Assignment 2: Getting edgy (Placement)

If the rule of thirds is something that must be obeyed, then as photographic artists it’s surely our duty to break the rule as often as we can?

Forget about compositional conventions. Your brief for this assignment is to push your subject as close to the edge of the frame as you can. Even better, ram it into the corner.

Play with this idea and take it as far as you can. The idea isn’t to create the perfectly composed photo (although it’s great if you do). It’s to get you to think about the placement of your subject and take risks with your composition.

composition assignment

Composition Assignment 7: Neighborhood texture and color (A sense of place)

The opposite of travel photography is to make photos in your own neighborhood, or that of a nearby town or city. This is easy if you live in a beautiful or photogenic place. But it’s different if you don’t. The more you long to get away to somewhere more photogenic, the more difficult this assignment will be for you.

Wherever you live, it’s often more interesting to concentrate on ordinary places. Like the previous assignment it’s about making personal photos rather than iconic ones. In this case your brief is to find interesting textures and colors to photograph.

The biggest challenge is likely to be seeing things with fresh eyes. The longer you live in a place, the harder it is to appreciate what is has. Try and see it through fresh eyes. What would a first-time visitor find interesting? Searching for interesting texture and color gives you a different way of looking at familiar locales.

composition assignment

Composition Assignment 12: Get abstract with color (Simplify)

An abstract photo is one where it’s difficult, if not impossible, to recognize the subject.

The previous assignment encouraged you to look for geometric shapes. This one gets you to look for organic shapes and patterns as well as color.

The photo below is a good example. I made it in a pottery shop by moving in close to a colorful, hand-made vase.

Other ways to make abstract photos include defocusing the lens so nothing is in focus, using a wide aperture so nearly everything is out of focus, and using a slow shutter speed and moving the camera during the exposure so the entire scene is blurred (this is called Intentional Camera Movement). Whichever method you choose, have fun with it and see what you can create with a playful approach.

composition assignment

Composition Assignment 22: Dominant color bold (Single color)

Another way to work with color is to look for photos that are dominated by a single strong color. Use a strong color, like red, yellow, blue or green. It’s okay to have other colors in the frame, as long as it’s dominated by a single bold color.

The strength and power of these colors lends itself to creating bold, graphic compositions. Remember the principle of simplicity. Working with a restricted color palette is another way of making your compositions more simple.

You’ll need to close in so the subject fills the frame, making this an ideal brief for close-up or macro photography. It’s all about making photos with bold color that have great impact.

Try it with different bold colors (perhaps all those listed above) to create a series of boldly colored, graphic images with strong, simple compositions.

composition assignment

Composition Assignment 31: Rainy day depth (Mood)

Rainy days are disappointing if you are hoping to do some photography, but what if we approach them with a different mindset? How can you use the wet conditions to create moody photos? How can you use it to create depth?

You could shoot a scene in the rain, letting the background fade into the mist, like the photo below. This is called aerial perspective and is a good way of creating depth in composition. The same technique also works in woods and forests.

Another option is to try your hand at street photography. This is an interesting idea when you’re traveling. Find somewhere dry to stand, if you can, and photograph your surroundings in the rain. Look for reflections on wet ground, and splashes of color amongst the gray. What is the mood of the place in the rain and how can you photograph it?

composition assignment

Composition Assignment 46: Big skies (Lines)

The standard compositional advice in landscape photography is to put the horizon on a third. It’s given with good intentions, and it’s another way of saying that central horizons usually (but not always) result in photos that are less interesting to look at than ones with horizons closer to the edge of the frame.

For this assignment your brief is to make a landscape photo with the horizon close to the bottom edge of the frame. It doesn’t matter how close, as that depends on the scene. The important thing is that there’s something interesting going on in the sky. This means interesting cloud patterns and, if you’re shooting near sunrise or sunset, beautiful light. This is the compositional technique you use when the sky is the most beautiful and dramatic part of the photo.

composition assignment

Composition Assignment 59: Broken symmetry (Balance)

A perfectly symmetrical subject is a balanced one. Center it in the frame and one half of your photo is the mirror image of the other. The problem is that perfect symmetry often makes boring photos.

In real life things are more interesting. Just like most people don’t have perfectly symmetrical faces, most symmetry isn’t perfect. And it’s the difference buried in the symmetry that makes the composition dynamic and interesting.

Take the photo below as an example. The metal kiosk is symmetrical, but the writing, the painted logos, the scratches, the rust patterns, the crumbling slabs in the foreground and the pile of stones on the left are not. These are what add interest to the image.

composition assignment

Composition Assignment 66: Sharp vs blurred (Contrast)

This is a technique based rather than a conceptual type of contrast, but it’s ultra-effective at creating powerful compositions. The idea is to use a slow shutter speed to make a photo that juxtaposes a still subject with a moving one.

Examples include anything with running water, like a stream or a waterfall, and long exposure photography, where you use shutter speeds of a minute or more to turn the sea into a dreamy blur.

Visually, the result juxtaposes moving and non-moving and (in the case of a subject using water) rough and smooth. In the photo below the smoothness of the water contrasts against the rough texture of the rocks. I also took the traditional waterfall photo a step further by asking a friend to model for me, creating human interest and a focal point.

composition assignment

Composition Assignment 73: Random stuff (The banal)

In this assignment your brief is to photograph the random stuff that people leaving laying around. It’s amazing what you find once you start looking. How many of these objects could be interesting subjects, if photographed the right way?

This is one of those assignments that has the potential for producing sets of photos. A set of three or six photos, following the brief of random stuff, is potentially much more interesting to look at than a single photo.

It’s also a brief that comes in useful if you’re putting together a series of photos made in a certain place. Combining photos that show the iconic locations, the interesting streets and buildings, with others that show banal details like random things people leave behind help build up a sense of a place’s character.

composition assignment

Composition Assignment 98: Imperfection (Advanced composition assignments)

Life isn’t always perfect. Neither are the scenes and objects you encounter in your daily life. Something new, lifted out from its box by the buyer, should be perfect. But, as time passes, and things get weathered, eroded and worn, perfection turns into imperfection. And that imperfection can have a beauty of its own. You can’t make something old, and it’s difficult to make the perfect imperfect. That’s the job of time and the elements.

Your brief for this assignment is to photograph something that isn’t perfect. This is another brief that lends itself to being an interesting long term theme to follow. You can return to it over and again when the right subject presents itself.

composition assignment

100 Composition Assignments ebook

100 Composition Assignments

These assignments come from my new ebook 100 Composition Assignments. It has 100 assignments just like the ones in this article, to light a fire and help you improve your compositions skills.

Click here to learn more or buy the ebook

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Composition ebooks

About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer with a camera. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He lives in south Devon in the UK and is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.

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