Why Composition Matters

As I prepare to teach my online course on Composition through the Equine Photographer’s Network, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on why I believe it is important that photographer’s don’t skip the step of learning and masting basic concepts of composition.

What I see in the work of photographers who are just starting out (and a few who have been around awhile), is a tendency to shoot almost everything close up and vertical. This is a very safe way of shooting and you can create strong, clean images with this method and I also shoot my fair share of close up and vertical images. But as I have endeavored to learn and apply compositional techniques to my work, I have turned my camera horizontal more and more, and found ways to communicate a lot more about what I am shooting, especially the environment in which my subject exists. This is a foundation to storytelling imagery!

I’m a visual learner and communicator, so I am going to use some photos to explain. I will work with several crops of an image I took in Kentucky last fall.


This is not a bad image, but it doesn’t take long for me to “read” the image and see three horses running in the fall. Pretty, but I don’t need to look at it very long.


The next image shows a little more, because it is in a horizontal format, but the crop is too tight to make good use of the elements in this scene to give the viewer more to look at and guide them through the entire photograph.


Here is the image as I shot it. I included the fence as a leading line to the horses, left room for them to run into, shot before the horses got to the tree so as to keep them in a cleaner background, balanced the scene between the horses and the tree, and included a lot of great scenery to give the photograph visual interest and texture.

I want to encourage you to take a look at your images. Are most of them close up and vertical? Then please consider spending the month of March learning composition with me! I promise not to pile a bunch of rules on you that will make you feel confined in your photography. Rather, I want to teach you some basic concepts that will help you make more compelling, more interesting photographs. Once you have learned these concepts, they will become an intuitive part of your shooting and you will be able to forget them.

Don’t forget, this course is open to ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS, not just equine photographers or members of the Equine Photographer’s Network. I am not limited the subject matter for this course, you can shoot any subject matter for the assignments.

There will be two simple reading and shooting assignments each week, and you will have the opportunity to get gentle feedback on your images to make sure you are understanding the concepts being taught.

Learn more and register!


  1. Dennis Bullock

    February 25, 2010

    Great information Shelley!

  2. Mike Priolo

    March 15, 2019

    Good image, Shelley!
    I guess you’re right, the last, uncropped image is probably compositionally the best and of the most interest, putting the horses in the best context in which they were shot.
    One thing I noticed which also I think adds to the “aesthetic pleasantry” of the image, is that the horses’ heads are in roughly a triangular arrangement, with the base of the “triangle” at the bottom of the image. This arrangement of figures in images has traditionally created an impression of “stability” and perhaps therefore harmony.
    (I wonder also, and this is perhaps being nit-picky, if the horses would better stand out if what is behind them were of a more different color, or less detailed (than the leafy background is here).
    Just my 2 cents.

  3. newborn photographer Brisbane

    August 5, 2020

    Your article is quite helpful! I have so many questions, and you have answered many. Thank you! Such a nice and superb article, we have been looking for this information about why composition matters photography tips. Indeed a great post about it!!

  4. Lennie Honcoop

    January 31, 2021

    I would love to draw this picture. I would like your approval.

    • Shelley Paulson

      February 1, 2021

      Hi Lennie! Certainly, as long as you don’t intend to sell it. If you do, then email me to negotiate a price. Thank you!

  5. Jessie

    September 7, 2021

    Is it possible to buy a copy of this picture to hang as the focal piece in my livingroom. I apologize in advance if this an insulting request. I fell in love with this picture


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