The Composition Checklist for Photographers

Good composition can be a challenge for any photographer. Here's a checklist that can help.
Good composition can be a challenge for any photographer. Here’s a checklist that can help.

Checklists are an incredibly powerful tool. From pilots to medical personnel, checklists help prevent mistakes and help train our brains to do complex tasks. A few years ago, when I was writing The Photographer’s Guide to Digital Landscapes, I decided to create a “composition checklist” for photographers.

Whenever I work with photographers, it seems like people fall into one of two camps: the creative types who may struggle with camera settings and the technology of digital imaging, and the technical types who know everything about their camera but struggle with creating powerful images. Composition is an art form, and while there are “rules” those rules are often meant to be broken.

If you’re struggling with getting composition right, here’s the checklist from my guide. While this list is tailored for landscape photographers, many of the items on it are applicable to all kinds of photography. You can download a printable PDF version of this checklist here:

Composition Checklist PDF

  • Have you defined the subject?
  • Does the scene have a discernible foreground, middle-ground & background?
  • Is your subject roughly near the rule of thirds points?
  • Does the scene contain elements that can be used as leading lines?
  • Are you close enough to the subject?
  • If you are using a super-wide lens, does your scene have a dominant foreground object or interesting foreground?
  • Did you check the corners of the viewfinder frame for distracting objects?
  • Does your scene contain “mini-landscapes” that can also be explored?
  • Can you create an interesting composition by breaking the rules?

With practice, you’ll start incorporating more of these ideas into your own photography to the point where they will become second nature.


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