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Paolo Gallo

Smart Photography Studio. The ultimate guide to photography composition

Copyright 2017 by Paolo Gallo. All rights reserved. No part of this book can be reproduced in any form without a written permission of the author. Reviews of this book may quote short paragraphs.

The information provided in this book was tested and documented very accurately. No liability resulting from their use can be attributed to the author.

This book contains referral links to microstock photography agencies.

All feedback welcomed on


Let's learn to see

4 Principles of Photographic Composition

7 Photographic Composition Tools

Understanding balance in photography

I always asked to myself…



About the author

Paolo Gallo is a photographer and author who lives in Milan, Italy. A manager of a multinational company by day, Paolo has steadfastly pursued his real passion for photography through continuous learning. He has been working with all main online photo agencies, microstock and not, since 2007. Currently, he helps photographers like him who want to turn their passion for photography into a second income.

His books, 7 Segreti per il Fotografo che Vuole Migliorare, Stupire e Guadagnare (best-selling e-book on Amazon Italy in the Photography category) and the series Fotografia Digitale Reflex are currently in the process of being translated into English from the original Italian.

When he has time to himself, Paolo likes playing chess and cultivating his garden, while changing the world for the better, one small act of kindness at a time.

You can find additional useful information and tools to support your photographer career on his Author Page and in his blog


This book does not include everything that has been written and said about photographic composition, but it tells yo; u what I've found useful over the past 10 years in what I've read about photography, listened and photographed. This book represents a selection of what I use; a personalized notepad in which I pinned what gave me concrete results to improve my photographs.

This book is the summary of what I've learned, and I’m confident that it can help you easily and quickly to take better pictures.

How many times do you come home thinking you took great pictures, but then realized your photos didn't work as they should or were not even close to the beauty of the subject? You could have done a lot more, but... simply, you didn't succeed.

The reasons for this failure are many. Sometimes the reason is of a technical nature (blurred image, something that distracts the observer, etc.), but most of the time, the reason is the composition: it makes the difference between a not so great image and an unforgettable one.

It's not about having the best equipment or to have luck: the thing which separates the good photographer from the mediocre one is the ability to create a good photographic composition.

In this book, we will look at the basics of the art of photography composition, discovering what compositional suggestions apply to any photographic genre and looking for universal elements that create a safe way to have a successful image. We will analyze together the process of seeing, but we will also talk about practical tools and photo capabilities useful to improve your photographic skills.

Above all, we will have a concrete approach to the subject, evaluating what we need to do when we are on the field to be able to get the most convincing results and to improve your chances of going home with great pictures.

As far as the topics in this book are extended, this guide doesn’t include 100% of all photographic composition knowledge but a collection of the most useful concepts I have personally tested over the years. Moreover, the art of photographic composition is a continuous process, and this capacity grows with the growth of a photographer. However, this book will help you to shorten the path between where you are and what are your full potentials as a photographer.

Preparing myself to write this text, I have read a lot of photographic composition books. Most of this material taught how to look at an image and describe it with a vocabulary suitable to make it a photographic critic. This is a great way to learn to deepen the sense of a picture: looking at it and to describe it in words is really useful for a photographer who wants to improve.

However, knowing to read an image doesn't mean knowing what to do when you are in the field with a camera. In fact, there's much more to know to create a good image. The trick is to learn how to feel the composition, and you can learn this only through practice.

We have to get to a point where the practice has been repeated and internalized so deeply that the photographer will no longer be able to think of the rules, but will apply them spontaneously, making come to light photographic composition without thinking about it. Indeed, in some situations the more technical thinking is concerned, the worse will it be for the ability to feel the image.

In this book, we'll learn the rules of photographic composition and then internalize and forget them. The sense of the exercises you will find in this book is building the foundations and creating your own awareness of a photographer.

I think you often heard about composing rules like the rule of third or photographing children by putting your camera at the level of their eyes ... the truth is that for every rule, there are so many exceptions that make sense only if you consider them useful directions from which to start thinking about a photograph. Our journey will help us learn the rules and use them with your own style, avoiding taking all identical photos or identical to that of other photographers.

I want to remove your doubt: the one about the quality of the equipment. No matter if you're using a digital camera or not, no matter if you're using your smartphone or an old Polaroid camera. In this book, we are talking about composition, so about your eye. No matter what you use to photograph, the focus is on your abilities.

More generally, we can divide the abilities of a photographer into two main categories. The first one is the technique: knowing the exposure, your camera settings, how to use the ISO and - above all - knowing the consequences of your technical choices.

The second category is about artistic skills. This category includes your ability to see and, above all, your ability to place the subject within the frame. In short: your photographic composition skills. This book chooses to deepen this second point.

There's plenty of material to talk about and lots of ideas to explore... so welcome to The ultimate guide to photography composition. Let’s learn to see!

Let's learn to see

Just because a landscape is beautiful does not mean we'll be able to capture it with your camera and making a good image from it. This is one of the most frustrating sensations for a photographer: it's terrible having a breathtaking view in front of our eyes and not be able to bring it into your image.

The reasons are different, starting from the psychological ones. We see a panorama, and we are immersed in it when we shoot, so we feel emotions, we smell the lawn before us, or feel the cold of the wind on our skin. Maybe it is a wonderful vacation day, and this helps to make fabulous this momentous, but all these emotions are difficult to put in a picture. Whoever looks at your picture will do so without having all this information, so he/she will only see what's inside the rectangle of your image.

Photographic composition is not simply choosing what to put in that rectangle, but it's the process of selecting shapes and tones to guide your audience's eye to the subject of the image.

In a good photographic composition, your eye immediately understands what the subject is. With a bad composition, your eye turns into a photograph without realizing where to focus its attention.

A good composition makes it more pleasing to look at an image and helps to reveal to the observer things he/she wouldn't otherwise notice. With a good composition, even the most common and boring situations become special.

If you are reading this book, probably you already have noticed how a wrong composition can ruin an image. But before analyzing the basis of composition - we will do it in the next chapter – I’d ask you a few minutes of patience to deepen an important point.

What is the most useful tool in photography? If you answered the camera, you got the wrong answer. The most useful tool in photography is your eye and your brain connected to it through the optic nerve.

Your eye has a physical structure similar to a camera. It has a light regulation system that opens a diaphragm (pupil), has a lens with an auto-focus, and also has a sensor on which the images are projected and captured (retina). So we could say between your eye and a camera, there is no big difference, at least regarding components. The real critical point, the one that makes the difference, comes right after your eye.

Your eye never works alone, but always matched to your brain which constantly analyzes, processes and gives meaning to the images that you see. As far a camera today can be equipped with an intelligence contained in its microchip, this isn't comparable to the role of the brain in processing an image and, above all, in giving it meaning.

The truth is, you never see the world objectively, unlike your camera. This is a very important point to understand before talking about photographic composition. Even though you try to be objective, your eye will always select elements within its visual field based on the decisions of your brain, while your camera will select all the elements in its visual field without a process of selection.

After all, this is on the basis of the big game of optical illusions.

Here is a simple example. The image above doesn't have any triangle inside, but your brain perceives at least two triangles because it analyzes the elements in it and puts them in correlation, regardless of what really is in front of your eyes. This correlation and attribution of meaning to an image is completely unknown to your camera, which just puts on a sensor what's in front of the lens. The lesson we learn is the brain reinterprets and corrects automatically, while with your camera, you will have to be as good as possible to compensate these corrective mechanisms of your brain. Your camera is more cruel than your eyes because it only faces the crude and objective reality.

Not only. The brain comes into play in another very important process: the selection. From this process comes the difference between looking and seeing. Complicated? Absolutely not. Think about when you're going out of your house. You're late, look at the table and take what you need to go to the office but, when you arrive at your car and start searching for the keys, you can't find them. You look in all your pockets, but you can't find them, so you go back home and ... they are on the table.

Why does this happen? When you came out, you looked at the table, but you didn't see it. Your brain has run several automatisms to speed up your home outing which has excluded some important signals, including the key. It's estimated that about 80% of this visual process is charged to the brain and the remaining 20% to the eye.

Your brain is, therefore, the biggest difference between your eye and your camera, but it's not the only one. Another great difference is the dynamic range, that is the measure of the amplitude between the lightest object and the darkest one in an image. Your eye has a dynamic range almost twice than the latest generation camera, which makes it better than any sensor or printer.

The consequence is when you take a photo with a high dynamic range scene, such as a sunset, your image will have an overexposed portion (sky) or underexposed portion (panorama), but it will not have a proper exposure of both areas like, on the other hand, make your eye.

To overcome this limit of cameras, there are various techniques, including combining multiple images correctly exposed in a single image, but this is a topic that comes out of this book. The important thing you should remember is that in wide dynamic range scenes, your camera has more limits than your eye.

Exercises to turn off the brain

I'm not talking about watching television all through the weekend, but about exercises that let you disable the correctional mechanisms of your brain, stop looking superficially and start to see really. These are preparatory exercises for the treatment of photographic composition. Below are two of the best exercises I recommend.

The first is called looking for letters. I heard of this exercise for the first time in a photography course. The teacher gave us an exercise that all of us students thought was stupid, but it changed my visual perception completely. Exercise simply consists in this: choose a couple of random letters. In fact, I choose for you: PS. At this point, take some kind of camera - even your mobile phone, it’s fine - and go out into the street. Now, you have to start to photograph these two letters wherever you find them in sequence. At first, you will not find them. Then, as the minutes or hours pass, you will notice that two-letter sequence will manifest itself more and more frequently. You will find it in advertisements, on the intercoms, written on the walls or in the titles of the books... and, at the same time, a small miracle will happen. The perception of what is around you will become much deeper, and you will see so many details of the world around you which before were invisible to your eyes. You will stop seeing superficially, begin to look with a depth of mental focus useful to a photographer who wants to grow.

The second exercise is wrong the name. You probably will feel silly doing it, but make an attempt. Enter in a room in your home and point an object with your finger, naming it aloud with a wrong name. For example, you can indicate a pencil and exclaim loud pot. Repeat this action with several objects in the room, saying aloud a wrong name. After that, leave the room and resume your normal activities. After half an hour, you have to return in that room and look at the objects you first named incorrectly. Even in this case, you will realize your visual perception will be much deeper. I have no idea why this phenomenon happens, but what is important is the final result: detaches the brain's automatism and starting to look at the details of what surrounds you.

4 Principles of Photographic Composition

There are several photographic composition rules and, above all, none of these is an absolute truth. For every rule, there are so many exceptions that often you end up using more these ones than the actual rule. For this reason, it's better talking about compositional principles. In this chapter, we will analyze together the four fundamental principles of photographic composition. Forget the rule of the third and the perspective lines ... these are useful tools, and we will talk about them in the next chapter. Here we want to go to the root of a good image: we investigate what creates a picture that works.

The four principles of photographic composition are:

A well-defined subject and background

A balanced image

An interesting point of view


A well-defined subject and background

This is the most important compositional principle, but also the most common mistake among novice photographers. Take a look at the image below.

This is a panorama of the city of Granada. I think this postcard image was taken millions of times by tourists, including me. Unfortunately, this is an image which doesn't work in terms of composition. The reason is simple: you don't understand where the subject is located. There is no a focal point, so the eye of the observer wanders where to focus. To put it in the words of my teacher in photography, there is too much stuff. It remains a nice postcard picture, but it's destined to be forgotten as soon as you stop to look it.

The simple but often forgotten (or unknown) rule is there should not be a competition between subject and background. Your choices about image composition should help you to clearly define the subject, detaching it from the background. An example? Here it is.

In this photo, the observer's eye is immediately driven to the Roman statue, and the background is well spaced from the subject. The background contextualizes the subject, but the eye of the observer reaches it later. To make it simple, the purpose of this principle (as well as all the other ones), is guiding the eye of the observer in the best possible way.

Balanced image

The concept of balanced image is less concrete than the previous one because often it is subjective judging when an image is balanced or not. We can say every element of the photo has a graphic weight. If this weight is all focused in a part of the image, this will be less harmonious, less enjoyable... less balanced.

Let's take some concrete examples.

This image is balanced. We are at Bryce Canyon, USA. The real subject of this photo is the landscape on the right. The observer's eye looks at him searching for details. However, in this case, to have a balanced image, you also need to include an element of interest on the left side of it. Otherwise, the image could result empty and less convincing. Inserting the tree allows you to create a compositive balance which makes the image enjoyable. In this picture, the balance is between the right and left the side of the image, but also it’d be between the top and bottom of the photograph or along its diagonal. Last but not least, an image is also balanced when the subject is at the center of the picture.

This detail of the Alcazar wall in Seville is balanced thanks to its central location. Tip: the central balance is the more static, so if you want to give a feeling of immobility to the subject, place it at the center of the photo. This is the best choice you can use to your advantage if this is the emotion you want to convey. Otherwise, if you prefer to give dynamism to the subject, then place it decentralized and closer to the edge of the photograph, giving to the observer's eye space to explore better in the image.

Another interesting tool in your toolbox to find the right balance is the negative space.

In this view of Florence, we use this concept. The negative space (or empty space) is a concept used in painting, architecture, and art in general for hundreds of years, and it allows you to turn trivial photographs into small masterpieces. In the picture above, the positive space is the subject (the Cathedral of Florence at the bottom), and the negative space is the wide area without the contents formed from the sky above the Dome.

As you understand, negative space allows you to emphasize and enhance the main subject of a photo by attracting the eye of the observer magnetically on it. Moreover, it helps the observer's eye to relax in a dedicated area, then drags it back to the main subject, allowing it to focus better on your image, making it more interesting.

I take this opportunity to remind you the balance can be horizontal (as in the images of the Brice Canyon and of the Alcazar wall) or vertical (as in the image of Florence). As a tree on the left of the image can balance the Canyon panorama on the right, the Dome on the bottom is balanced by the large negative space at the top of the image.

Interesting point of view

We live in a strongly visual society, and our eyes are saturated with visual stimuli. Advertising well knows this fact, and it's obliged to push more and more on exaggerations to catch your attention.

In this context where everything is already seen and revised, it becomes very difficult to propose something new. However, astonish remains the essential talent of the photographer who wants to attract attention to his/her pictures. Knowing how to take a photo of a famous landmark using original compositional angles and interpretations is a really useful tool in your photographic toolbox.

This is what I mean when I talk about interesting point of view: get interest from the reader of an image by offering him/her an unusual point of view. As photographers, we have to find the way to avoid boredom in our images.

To do this, we can use different tricks. Taking a photo of a subject with an excessively low point of view allows you to attribute importance to the subject. On the other hand, taking a photo of a subject from above tends to lessen its status. For this reason, one of the practical rules of composition is putting the camera at the level of the eyes of a person we are photographing or lower. Have you ever noticed how disliked are pictures of children taken from above? Simply, they don't work because of the wrong emotional message they give. Otherwise, if you drop yourself at the level of their eyes, or even you lie down and take the photo, their world will open to you because you start to see how they see, getting closer to their emotions.

In the end, it's about to choose the position of the camera at the time of the shooting. This choice not only allows you to fight the boredom of the already seen picture, but it's also a great tool for communicating an emotional message.

Two small tips ready to use. The first one is using a wide-angle lens, which allows you to dramatize your point of view, being the most interesting tool to exaggerate prospects and distances. On top of this, it's really fun to play with a wide-angle lens!

The second tip is trying shooting without looking into the viewfinder. I received this important advice from a great teacher of photography during a course a few years ago. Taking a photo without looking into the viewfinder (or display) will blow you all compositional steps your brain would otherwise have to put into action automatically. Have you ever wondered why if you give a camera to a child, they often come up with some amazing photos? Because, without knowing the compositional rules and perhaps without even looking through the lens, he/she can bring a different, not boring point of view. I'm not saying we do not have to know rules of composition (otherwise we're going to lose our time, mine in writing this book and yours reading it), but I say we have to use the photographic composition rules when we need it, without being slaves of the rules. Sometimes, taking a blinding photo lets you bring amazing results.


The photo of the Florence Cathedral we saw a few pages back also has another important feature: it's simple. The superfluous has been taken away, and the presence of negative space is not wasted, but it’s useful to emphasize the subject.

One of the most common sins among non-professional photographers is to put too much on a photo. One of the differences between the professional and the amateur photographer is that the first one is able to remove the superfluous from a photo enhancing the subject.

But how to resist the temptation to put too much inside a picture? The easiest way is approaching the subject physically. We are accustomed to the convenience of zoom lenses and, sometimes, they make us lazy. An excellent antidote is using a fixed lens approaching the subject with the best zoom in the world: your feet. Move close to your subject and when you think you're close enough to it, move closer. Let’s remove things from the frame, not add.

Another tool to simplify an image by bringing attention to the subject is the depth of field. A shallow depth of field allows you to simplify an image by eliminating disturbing visual elements that create confusion on the subject. Even a clever use of the depth of field is an element that distinguishes the professional photographer from the novice one. If you look at the huge amount of pictures taken with smartphones and posted on the internet, you'll notice that all have a common element: a wide depth of field. Very often this doesn't allow you to focus clearly on the subject, that remains visually confused with the background of the photograph.

In the end, the photographer makes the opposite process of the painter: a painter starts from an empty canvas and fills it, a photographer starts from reality and deletes elements to focus the observer's attention only on few of them, moving closer (if possible) to the subject. As we have told in the previous chapter, your camera frames everything in front of you, while your eyes look at everything but only see the part on which your brain concentrates its attention. To re-establish this balance and take pictures that make justice to the subject you have in front of you, you have to simplify everything by removing the superfluous from your photography.

Exercise about 4 Principles of Photographic Composition

Practice doesn't make you perfect. It's the perfect practice that makes you perfect or, at least, the practice of those who are committed to improving. This means you don't have to spend many hours creating bad photos, and I strongly suggest to have shorter sessions in which you focus your attention on improving your skills in a specific area.

A great way to proceed is to give yourself a photographic assignment. Giving yourself an assignment allows you to reduce confusion because it simplifies and cut too many options. It shouldn't be a complicated photographic assignment. Here's how to do it.

Choose an object or a color around you. This is your photographic assignment. If you chose the chair you're sitting on, go out of your home with your camera and take a photo of all the interesting chairs you'll find in the next couple of hours. If you chose the yellow color, you could dedicate part of the coming weekend searching for this color in your town, taking photos of it. Be curious, and you’ll be surprised. The important thing is use, knowingly, the four pillars of the composition you have read about in this chapter. You don't have to use them all together: just choose one theme (i.e. color), then start your photo session having one of the four photographic principles explained in this chapter clear in your mind and apply it.


7 Photographic Composition Tools

In the previous chapter, we examined the four principles of photographic composition: well-defined subject and background, balanced image, interesting point of view and simplicity of the image.

In this chapter, we'll talk about the 7 tools: lines, shapes, repetitions, rule of thirds, rule of three, perspective and symmetry. Think about a toolbox. When you are talking about photographic composition, these are your working tools. I introduce them to you.


Lines are among the strongest composing element you can use inside an image.

In the autumnal landscape, you can see above, in a gorgeous Turin city in North Italy, the rails of the train have been used to turn an ordinary photo into an interesting one. The lines coming from the bottom edge of the picture allows giving an entrance for the viewer into the image, guiding his/her eye which only later stops on the autumn trees in the background.

Given that the lines have such a strong impact to guide the eye into a photograph, these can be in the most different shapes. They can be in the structures of architecture, but also in the shadows of the same architecture on the ground (shadow lines often are a very powerful and less used composing theme). But lines can also be in repetitive themes in an architectural structure: for example, think of a series of bolts in line. Remember: we can find lines both when we are looking at a large structure or when we are looking for small details.

Generally, I suggest working on this composite element in two ways. The first one is searching for an interesting subject and, within it, finding lines which enhance it by creating an impressive composition. The second one, in my opinion, more fun, because more challenging, is finding an uninteresting subject and strive to find within its lines and repetitions of themes which can enhance it.

One practical trick I've learned in a photography course some year ago is choosing which lines to use. Often, in fact, we faced a subject with multiple possibilities of interpretation, and choose among the many alternatives of lines and how to place them within our photographic composition is not so obvious. The secret is simple: choose the strongest line and place it in parallel to one of the edges of the photo.

In this image, the strongest, predominant line, the one which makes it possible to place order in the composition, is given by the line of the house edge, placed in the middle of the image. Among dozens of possibility for taking this picture of Piazza Roma old plate, this one works very well because of the equilibrium in composition: the edge of the house is perpendicular, parallel to the right and left edges of the photo. The inclined plate works well because, despite it's the main subject of the image, it doesn't have the task of giving order to the composition; a task charged to the strongest line parallel to the edge.

The same happens in this image about the columns of the Basilica of Superga, near Turin - Italy. The strong line is given by the first column to the left, placed vertically, so parallel to the edges of the photo. This line allows you to choose a composition that works between dozens and dozens of alternatives. Of course, the same argument can be applied to a horizontal line.

In this book, we have not talked about black and white photography. In this type of photography, the power of the lines is greatly expanded. Black and white have the feature of being much more direct in terms of composition, because it removes the color, forcing the viewer to concentrate his/herself on lines, shapes, and composition. Choosing of taking photos, even occasionally, having the mind to produce black and white photographs allows you to think differently, exalting shapes and giving you the chance to turn a dull subject into an interesting one.

The lines in photography are tools you can apply in two ways. You can use them as a subject of the image or bring the observer's eye to the interesting subject to focus his/her attention.

One last thought about using this important tool: lines in your photographic composition, as you may imagine, can change completely by moving one step away. It takes patience; you have to shoot slowly, better with a tripod which forces you to slow down your speed and think. But often is that side step, or a forward one, or the fact you have lowered or raised your tripod to make the difference between an ordinary picture and an interesting one.


In photography, shapes are another useful tool to keep in your box to make a better composition. Shapes allow us to put in order, recalling in the mind of the reader memories arriving from childhood, which are often automatic and make them more pleasing to watch your picture. Squares, circles, triangles, spirals... the observer's eye can read all these shapes also in an unconsciously way. Often, we can't explain the reason why, but we prefer that photo (with a precise form inside of it) to another one that instead we find more... disordered.

The important thing for the photographer is to focus on simple shapes. Look for something simple as three subjects that form a triangle, or a window which creates a square frame. In photography, simplicity always pays.

The possibilities offered by using shapes in photography are infinite, but some of them work better than others. I think one of the shapes which best works is the circular one. Specifically, this shape is effective when combined with a square image crop, as in this example.

Given that the eye tends to identify and appreciate shapes that it knows within a photo, it's important to simplify an image, avoiding kneading, i.e. avoiding having a shape whose profile is disturbed by a disturbing element. A practical example can be the portrait of a person with a tree (a pole, a trellis of a phone) appearing from behind his/her head. Try to ensure that the shape in the foreground isn't disturbed by the background, and if you are in a difficult situation, use a narrow deep of field to blurry the background and the ability to distract the observer.

A little trick I use to avoid kneading is composing the image, then quickly move my attention to the edges of the frame until the perimeter frame round is completed. You will spend a second more, but the composition of your images will be a lot better.


Repetitions are one of the simplest tools you can use in composing because they bring order within a picture. Repetition gives a reading rhythm, a meaning to the image and often involves a line which guides the observer's eye. In fact, even if there's not a physical line or it isn't complete, the repetition suggests it in the image. Repetition is simple and works: use it whenever you can.

Rules of The Thirds

Each book about photography has a chapter dedicated to the Rule of the thirds. In this book, I'll dedicate it only a paragraph, because the concept is quite simple and, above all, we have to analyze only the practical application.

The Rule of the thirds consists to mentally divide your pictures using two vertical and two horizontal lines, as in the image you see below.

To have a harmonic composition, you should place your subject at a point of intersection of the lines (red balls).

Have we found the magic formula of photography composition? Not exactly.

The idea of this rule is good: the subject placed not in the center of the image, makes a more dynamic photo, leaving some negative space on the opposite side and often this negative space can be used to put text when the picture is used in an editorial project.

In the picture you see above, the Christmas festoon is placed on the lower third of the image and the ball on the bottom right intersection point, so the composition is definitely balanced and enjoyable.

The problem of this rule application is that it creates too much similar and stereotyped images. It's very hard making mistakes using this rule, but it's also difficult to propose something new. The advice is to use it, make it one of your tool and then forget it.

The rule of the three

It's not the Rule of the thirds, but something different.

As we saw in this book, when we see a picture, our brain recognizes shapes and attributes to it some meanings (even at the unconscious level). Thanks to these meanings, the observer judges an image pleasing or not.

A particularly effective case of meaning attributed by the viewer is the presence of three similar subjects in your photo. The presence of three elements creates harmonic compositions in an almost independent way, regardless of the photographer's will. Generally, in a picture, your subjects work well if they are in an odd number. A single subject focuses all attention on it, but three similar subjects create a harmonic composition creating a triangular shape. Also, five or more subjects, although they are more difficult to find, still work well.

Three elements create a path recognized by our brains. Next time you see three grouped objects, it's time to pull out your cam!


Perspective in photography is an easy and useful tool because it immediately balances the composition of your image.

The use of perspective helps to remediate - at least in part - one of the great limits of photography: moving a three-dimensional subject into a two-dimensional object (paper or monitor). The use of perspective in photographic composition strongly depends on your choices, starting from the lens you'll use.

Using a telephoto lens, you will have images in which all perspective planes will be closer, giving you a visual feeling of being crushed with each other. Moreover, it will allow you to blur background if this disturbs the main subject of your photo.

I took a picture of the lemur you see above using a telephoto lens. I took it to a fauna park where these animals are accustomed to visitors. so Using telephoto zoom, I blurred the background, making it homogeneous and enhancing the subject.

A wide angle brings us in the opposite direction. It distances all perspective planes by creating an image where everything is focused, from the foreground to the background object.

I created this image of the Chiostro di Santa Chiara in Naples using a wide angle. As you can see, all columns in perspective are in focus. However, note how they tend to converge slightly inwards, almost giving the effect of falling into the picture's center. This effect is derived from the relevant distortion of the wide-angle lens.

Distortion effect of the wide angle lens can be used to exaggerate architectural perspective effects, but if you don't want it, you have to keep the camera sensor parallel to the subject to reduce to the minimum the lens distortion. Another option is to create an image and then fix it in post production with a dedicated software. Personally, I suggest Adobe Lightroom: its Lens Corrections tool gives superb results, but there are many other software (some of them are free, like GIMP) which can work very well correcting lens distortions.

What is the best choice between telephoto and wide angle? Both of them. They allow you to use perspective effects to your advantage and the real difference is your interpretation of the subject. With a telephoto lens, do not limit yourself to approaching to the subject, but plays controlling the depth of field including or not the background. Same consideration for the wide angle: it's a very strong temptation incorporating a lot of stuff inside the image when using this type of lens, but you'll appreciate its true potentials when you have a strong and enlarged foreground subject (thanks to the perspective distortion of this type of lens) and a background completely in focus, enhancing the depth of field in the image.

In summary:

- Telephoto: The novice uses it to get closer, the expert uses it to blur the background.

- Wide Angle: The novice uses it to put too much stuff in the image, the expert to enhance the sense of depth of field by placing a subject in the foreground.


Symmetry is also one of the easiest and fastest ways to be sure you have a balanced image. Symmetry creates a comfortable situation for the observer's eye, who knows immediately where to go. The opposite situation is asymmetry, useful in creating tension and dynamism in an image. The Rule of the thirds goes in this second direction.

If you want to give the feel of a static, simple and direct image... the choice of symmetry is the right one.

Exercises to use your composite toolbox

In this chapter, you have found seven tools to put in your mental photographer toolbox. These seven compositional tools are: lines, shapes, repetitions, Rule of the thirds, rule of three, perspective, and symmetry.

In your next photo shooting, choose one of them to take with you and use. You don't need to go far: getting out of the house is useful because it makes you look the world with new eyes, but if it's raining, you can do this exercise even at home. Leave your tablet or PC or any electronic device on which you are reading this eBook and take your camera. Choose your tool (symmetry? Rule of the thirds?) and start shooting. My tip is not to look immediately at your pictures but after few days. This will allow you to feel emotionally distant from the moment you have created them, being more objective on the results.

The second exercise is more difficult and consists of creating your photographic mission by choosing two random tools between the exposed ones and matching them together. The first times I did it under the suggestion of one of the most valuable photo teachers I met on my path, I used seven pieces of paper on which the name of these tools was on and randomly extracted two of them. Sometimes, the combinations were really difficult. How could you match symmetry and Rule of the thirds? You have to develop inventively, and a know how to think, which is the quality of a photographer who wants to grow.

Understanding balance in photography

What is balance in photography? It's something difficult to define because it doesn't have precise features: you see it and feel it. It's the sensation you have when the graphic weight of subjects is correctly distributed over the entire surface of the image. It's the sensation of balance when you look at an image or the tension that comes out if the balance is not there. You can feel it. A subject placed strongly at the center of an image creates a feeling of balance, even stillness, while the same subject placed on the side of the photo creates an unbalanced image. Moving the lens a centimeter on the left or on the right is enough to make a completely different compositional choice.

A conscious use of balance is the ultimate goal of composition. Balance (or the absence of balance) helps your image to look more or less dynamic. The graphic weight distribution of what is in your photo determines whether your image is balanced or not. In a balanced image, there's a feeling of quiet, while in an unbalanced (deliberately) one, there's more dynamism that moves attention from one side or the other of the frame. Choosing to create a balanced image is an interpretive choice: for many people, an unbalanced image which expresses tension communicates a story more effectively and, therefore, is preferable to a balanced one. It all depends on the emotion you want to create. But how do we concretely create a balanced (or not balanced) image? This is the topic of this chapter.

Rule of the third and image balance

As we have seen before, one of the seven compositional tools is the Rule of thirds. This is very much used for a reason: it works. However, it has a problem: it creates very similar images because all photographers should (more or less) know it. The Rule of the thirds tends to create balanced images automatically: the weight of a subject placed on one-third of the image is balanced by the negative space left on the opposite side. This rule works with all rectangular crop photos, as we will see later in this chapter; for square images, we have to make different considerations.

But not everyone knows the Rule of thirds is a starting point and not an arrival. The Rule of the thirds works even if the subject is not exactly placed on one of the intersections of the vertical and horizontal lines. The Rule of the thirds helps you to place the subject correctly to begin studying your photographic composition, but it shouldn't be exactly on the vertical between the first and second third, or between the second and the third.

As you can see in this image, the Statue of Liberty isn't placed exactly on the vertical line between the first and second third on the left, but I can assure it works. I chose to frame more sky to leave more place for any text if in case this image is selected for an editorial project. Sales have confirmed this is a good composition choice.

The Rule of the thirds is a suggestion: sometimes it works very well, sometimes a little less, but it's always a good starting point for your work.

The Rule of the thirds is a great solution for creating balanced images, but please: don't use it always and without your personal interpretation!

Tones and Balance

Another interesting opportunity to create balance isn't related to the graphic weight of the elements, but to their tone in the image. This is particularly true in black and white photography, where clear areas can be balanced by dark areas. Playing with shadows is often a great way to apply this kind of balancing, unused because it’s less obvious than the Rule of the thirds.

In this image, I didn't respect the Rule of the thirds, and I simplified the composition using few distinct elements necessary to make it clear to the reader that it's a detail of a crane. What makes this image a balanced photo are tones. If we imagine a diagonal line from the lower left to the upper right corner, all dark elements are in the top left triangle, while the lower right is pure white. The weight of the dark subject is balanced by the clear side of the image.

Human element and balance

Put a human figure inside a photo, however small it may be, is one of the tools to build a balanced image. The graphic weight of a human element is high, and often even a small silhouette can hold a comparison with a very big element placed on the opposite side of the photo. Look at this example.

Here you can see a little photographic alchemy. We are in Monument Valley (USA). This is one of the most photographed areas in the world thanks to its spectacular scenery and for good reasons: everything is immense. If you happen to visit this place, bring with you the best lenses you have because you'll fall in love with its rock formations, its sky, the saturation of the colors around you... everything is so spectacular to lose the proportions of things. The picture you see above is balanced thanks to the small subject, a man riding in front of an immense panorama. See, just a tiny subject, almost a dot, can give balance to this photograph and keep the comparison of the graphic weight of the sky above him and of the panoramic space in front of him.

This is an idea to keep in mind and keep it ready for use in your toolbox. The human element has a huge photographic and psychologically weight.

How to balance a square crop image

We are not very used to seeing a square photo. Usually, the ratio between the margins of our images is 3: 2 (typical SLR format), or 4: 3 (like many compact cameras and televisions) or 16: 9 (for TV). A square image is unusual, but for this reason, it's a solution which often gets to be noticed because it’s something different.

In square images, the Rule of the thirds doesn't work because, in this type of image, it's much better to take advantage of the corners of the photograph or to place the subject exactly in the center. Square crop also works very well if there's a circular subject inside it: if you need to take a photo of the round dial of a clock, for example, a square frame is often the best composing choice.

In summary: a square photo is different from the usual format but, for this reason, is also the most interesting. The Rule of the third doesn't work with this crop, so it's a better choice placing the subject in the center of the image or closer to the corners, but not a 1/3 from the border of the image.

How to make a portrait with a good composition

The beautiful thing about composition is that it applies to any kind of photo, from portrait to panorama. This book is not dedicated to portraiture photography, and has no ambition to talk about that in few sentences, but...if there are a few useful composing tips we can learn and apply in this photo genre, why not to talk about them? Here's some idea.

The most common composing mistake when taking a photo of a person is not getting close enough. The second one is leaving too much space above the subject's head. These mistakes generally accompany most of the photos of the last family trip when we see them on our computer at home. Why do we leave all that space on people's heads? Remove it!

But, in which direction the subject within photography has to look? This is another interesting point on which we have to think about. The subject can look to the camera (and that's fine), or it can look to the center of the image (which is just as good). What doesn't work is when the subject looks or walks ... out of the picture.

A brief note. The principle of the subject which looks or moves towards the center of the image could also be applied to the photography of animals.

Giraffes look into the camera or towards the center of the image. Very well.

Giraffes come out from the picture. Very bad. This kind of image works decisively less because the subject communicates the psychological sensation of escaping or being elusive.

Coming back to portraiture photography: what's the better choice to crop the subject? How could we position him/her into the frame? My tip is to always crop the subject at the level of his/her arms and legs but never on the joints. Here is a simplified scheme.

Green lines are the suggested and more harmonious crops you can use, while the red lines are what you should avoid. As you can see in a very close portrait, never crop ears, while it's a good choice to crop the forehead of the subject, allowing us to focus more on the eyes of the person and giving a feeling of intimacy and connection between subject and observer.

And now, a quick tip about the right lens for portrait photography: never use wide angles, because they deform the facial features closest to the lens (it's not good and not even beautiful to have a portrait with a very very big nose), but choose a telephoto lens with a moderate focal length. Personally, I prefer to use a 100mm macro telephoto lens.

How to create a landscaping photograph with a good composition

Even in this situation, I should write an entire book about this topic, but maybe I can give you some useful and quick advice to take with you during your next photo shoot.

In landscaping photography, we come back to the basics and the four principles of composition we have seen in the second chapter. Of these four principles, simplification is fundamental when talking about this photographic genre.

The reason for this importance comes from the greatest difficulty of landscape photography: to be able to eliminate superfluous. In particular, we often can't delete some details which, in spite of us, will appear in our image, such as a trunk of electricity, a car in the wrong place, an undesired billboard.

Landscape photography also poses a great temptation, especially when it's combined with that great wide angle we have recently bought and which we love: including too much stuff. Indeed, a landscaping photograph still needs a focus point (on the horizon or not) to which the observer's eye is to be attached. Including too much panorama could make very small details, giving the viewer the feeling he doesn't know where to look inside the image. The practical tip is to use the wide angle with moderation, limiting what to include in the frame, taking care to identify a clear focus and anchorage point inside the image.

The great difference between landscape photography and other photographic genres is the difficult choice of where to place the horizon line. Where do we put it? Depending on how high or low we choose to place it, we'll give more importance to the earth or to the sky element. There's not a rule written on the stone, so the difference will be made by the psychological impact that you want to give to the observer, as well as your choice of how to balance the image. A spectacular sky generally calls for a low line of the horizon, while an inexpressive sky invites us to make it unimportant by raising the horizon (even better if we can completely remove a portion of sky which doesn't add value to our image). Always remember that including a large portion of sky in your photography can have a strong impact on the exposure value, with the risk of having a photo with a tonal range which can't be included in a single click (part of the image will remain under or over exposed).

In summary, landscape photography poses two challenges: knowing how to simplify and place the horizon line. Being aware of these two points allows you to start with the right approach to your image.

I always asked to myself…

Where can I find good photo subjects?

Anywhere. Maybe this could be a simplistic answer, but that's right. You don't necessarily need exotic locations; you don't even need to get up from your chair. Probably at this moment, if you had your camera at your fingertips, you could take interesting shots of what you have around you without moving from where you are. Unfortunately, we are only lazy human beings accustomed to everyday life, so we often don't see what's around us. Traveling to remote places makes us better photographers not only because the place is interesting, but because we look at it with new eyes.

What is the right approach when I photograph a place, a city, a country?

You can do two things. The first option is to drive your car, sometimes stop and take some pictures in the hope of getting a good shot. The second option is what the professionals do. Professional photographers spend a lot of time in a place to relate to people before taking a photo. The ability to create human relationships at the same time creates opportunities to find an idea ready to become a great image.

I know: we often take pictures on vacations and not always we have the time we want to dedicate to a location, but we also can find reasonable compromises. Next time you visit a location, take a couple of hours to take a walk, find a tourist office, talk to a tourist reception desk, or talk to your hotel's reception desk. If you are in a Bed & Breakfast, seek the advice of your hosts: explain you are a photographer and you're looking for interesting places to photograph. You'll see the investment of these two hours will have a huge return on the quality of your photos.

For example, eat at a local restaurant and ask for information: if you show a genuine interest in the place (especially in small towns), the doors of the most interesting places will be opened directly by local people. And remember to take a look at the postcard shop at the corner to see the typical views and architectural beauties of the place.

In short: to take better photos, leave your camera in your hotel room for a few hours.

How to start working on a subject?

You have to work on a picture like you should work on a painting or a sculpture. It slowly takes shape, and only by approaching the subject you can understand it better. Here's the first tip: come close physically to the subject. With this simple action, you will get a great result: simplify the subject. This action will also allow you to discover opportunities, alignments, shapes you couldn't imagine from your starting point. It's a small metaphor of life: you have to start, and the opportunities come spontaneously.

Once you have approached the subject, use the seven tools of your photographic toolbox and try to recognize them in what you have in front of you. When you find that you have extracted everything from your subject, you can change your lenses or use your zoom using a completely different focal length, start moving around within your location or around your subject. Moving around allows you to give order to the world and this is composition: a world ordered according to your choices. Remember: for a hundredth of a second (your shot) you have the control of the world.

And if I don't have time to work on a subject?

If you don't have enough time to thoroughly examine a subject for different reasons (travel time doesn't allow you, you have to help your child do the homework, etc...), you can use the Rule of the thirds and perspective. Combining together these two tools it's the fastest way to get appreciable results in few seconds.

Photographic composition: is it technical or instinctive skill?

It starts with the technique; there are no shortcuts. The four principles of photographic composition and the seven tools found in this book are the same ones which, in a different order and with different names, you can find in dozens of other books: here I simply summarized and simplified them.

But... after technique comes instinct. In my view, instinct is something extremely rational which comes from the repetition of usual practices rooted into your subconscious. When you see a situation that gives you an idea, probably this isn't the result of your genius mind, but the repetition of a situation you have already seen or studied and is in somewhere in your photographic memory. Your brain knows what to do: let it work. This is one of the reasons why often interesting ideas in photography comes in unexpected moments, sometimes sleeping, or while you are showering: your brain has silently processed the images, correlated them together and proposed you a solution to be used during your next photo shoot. So, in truth, instinct is a hard and silent work of your mind.

A very useful practice before starting to photograph is to warm up like athletes. Of course, if you shoot without warming up, you don't take the risk of getting a stretch, but if you start a photo session after a warm up, you'll see instinct and inspiration will come more easily. Each photographer warms up differently. For example, I have a folder on my PC containing images found online which particularly inspired me, and I look at them before my photo sessions. As a second choice, I use a series of magazines (including National Geographic) that I look before I start photographing. Often just look at a style, or an idea helps you to get into the right mindset and start working properly as a photographer.

Why did I take 1000 pictures and almost all of them are to be thrown away? There will be maybe a couple of decent ones!

It's normal; you're not especially unlucky or a bad photographer. I am the first to look for the "WOW!" effect in every shot I take, but I can only get it a couple of times every 50 pictures (when it's a good day). Remember that even National Geographic photographers publish only their best works, so your benchmark can't be their published pictures in magazines. Those can inspire you, but for every published shot, many others have been discarded. So if this can console you, you're not alone. Everyone has a number of “WOW” images that is a little percentage of the total.

Okay, I understand, but why can't I get at least one image like that of the great photographers of National Geographic?

For so many reasons but I try to choose one. The secret is "move yourself." Instead of using your zoom lens, try to get closer to your subject. With this powerful zoom (your feet), opportunities will come naturally.

Practice makes it perfect, isn't it?

Absolutely not. Perfect practice makes perfection, which is a different thing. It's better to dedicate to photography three sessions of an hour (or less) and stop yourself as soon as you understand you have less inspiration and motivation. Dedicate to photography the whole weekend without motivation will not pay. Treat your every exercise session like a photography assignment from an important magazine, with a specific goal and professional approach: this will make you perfect.

Is it a good idea to replicate the photographs of the great photographers?

Yes, it's a very useful exercise, which will force you to be informed about the works of a Great Photographer by entering new ideas in your photographic memory archive. By taking photos in similar situations, you will see the possible alternatives, and you'll understand why an image has been published instead of another one. There's not only the great published photo you see, but there's also the invisible process of thinking and selection that often is even more important. You can learn this by putting yourself in the role of the Great Photographer and trying to replicate his work.

I really tried, but I couldn't photograph that subject as I wanted.

It can happen. It can happen because it's a bad day because you're too low with your camera, or because there is an intrusive billboard in the background, or for other thousand reasons... the important thing is, don't make an excuse not to come out with your camera with you next time.

Sometimes, there are situations in which you simply have to leave your camera and enjoy the moment.

I would like to buy a wide angle. Do I think it's a good idea?

Yes, absolutely, but then you have to learn to use it: this is another story, and it takes time. In general, the wide angle (a lens with a reduced focal length - below 50mm) can also be used to make a beautiful panorama, but not only. This lens allows a great depth of field, so it allows you to focus on a subject in the foreground and a panorama in the background of the image, giving a 3D effect that other lenses can’t deliver.

This lens is the most used in interior design because of its ability to include a whole room despite a limited possibility of movement for the photographer in restricted spaces. It's also a great choice in exterior design, thanks to the possibility of playing with the distortion effect typical of this lens, which allows you to have falling lines inwards when you lift the camera upward, exasperating perspective.

I changed my mind. I want to buy a telephoto lens. Is it a good idea?

Absolutely yes, even in this case. The telephoto (with zoom) is cool: it saves you space and frees you from weight, making your movements easier… but it's also one of the biggest obstacles to growing as a photographer because telephoto lenses (and zoom optics in general) make us lazy. They are so comfortable which doesn't force us to use our feet to explore our subjects when it's during this exploration that you can discover unexpected possibilities for a good photo composition.

Zoom optics is an extraordinary invention, and you have to use them, but an excessive use makes us lazy. An excellent exercise is to go out with a zoom lens and use it only with a specific focal length: one day 50mm, one day 100mm... This solution will prove that we’re in command of our lens, not vice versa.

Is it more "cool" to photograph in black and white?

Black and white, like color, is your choice and not an obligation given by some photography gurus. It's simply an expressive tool at your disposal. Black and white photography has the advantage of reducing the information in the image and simplifies it, making the composition a bit (just a little bit) simpler than in a color photo that may have color distractions. Black and white photography goes directly to the foundation of the composition by removing the superfluous. At the same time, it moves you into an unreal world: we don't see in black and white, and therefore, it brings us to a dimension that doesn't exist, is somehow invented... with the fantastic expressive opportunities that this means. But remember: it's an expressive tool, not an obligation to feel yourself like a smart photographer.

In your opinion, what is the fastest way to improve as a photographer?

I suggest the school of Microstock Photography: it is free and great to improve fast. Moreover, it pays you. Microstock Photography Agencies are online photography agencies with immense image archives. These agencies deal with distribution, marketing and sales of your images. They give you a part of earnings, which can range from 25 cents to 250 euros (this was my top sales price). I approached microstock photography in 2007, mainly to improve as a photographer since agency inspectors, with the refusal of my pictures, have taught me a lot about what is a good photograph from a technical point of view. It's a difficult but worthy school, and it gives you the chance to give yourself some satisfaction, thanks to your earnings, like buying new lenses. Why leave images on your hard drive when you can sell them? If you ask me from which agencies to start, I suggest these two in order of importance:



These agencies are the ones I have historically found best both in terms of reputation and earnings. The links above are four referral links.

Could you give me a final tip?

Composition is geometry but remember; we shoot to transfer emotions to our audience.


By completing the reading of this book, you have the opportunity to bring with you something valuable: a collection of ideas that many photographers don't know during their entire photographic career. Thanks to these ideas, you'll have a compass which will show you the way to go when you compose your next image. Remember: composing (along with the clever use of light), is the photographic ability which, more than anything else, makes a difference in your images - more than any new and expensive photo gadget just released on the market.

If you have to choose what to remember at the end of this book, I suggest you print or write this list on a sheet of paper.

4 Principles of Photographic Composition

- Well-defined subject and background

- Balanced image

- An interesting point of view

- Simplicity

Your 7 composing tools

- Lines

- Shapes

- Repetition

- The Rule of the thirds

- The rule of three

- Perspective

- Symmetry

Before going out for your next photographic shoot, stop for a few minutes to get some warm up, reading some inspirational images, just like athletes or musicians do before they perform. Start from the four principles of photographic composition: are they all clear? Do you want to go back to the chapter again? Do you want to see your favorite photographer's images again to remind you how he/she applies these principles and take inspiration?

After this first analysis, choose one or two compositional tools from your photographic toolbox and use them. Often, the excess of photographic freedom leads us to confusion and paralysis due to the abundance of options. Knowing how to take some pictures of a subject having in mind a couple of compositional tools, allows us to limit the range of options and to focus precisely instead of turning round in confusion.

When you come back home, download your images on your PC and let it pass a few days. Give to your images the time to deposit in your mind (I often leave several weeks). This process will allow you to be more objective when you look at and select them. Often, when we shoot, we put a lot of our psychological moment in that photos. The image which immediately inspired us could be boring after few days. This isn't negative but will simply allow you to be more objective on the judgment of your photography: it's fair to be the first critic of your images.

If you want to take a step further and get in the game, the challenge of microstock agencies is a great school to improve your photographic technique. Shutterstock and Fotolia are the agencies I suggest you start from.

No growth path can start simply after reading a book. For this reason, now it's time to put down this book, take your camera and start taking photos.

Good light!



Thank you for purchasing this book. It sums up a good part of my experience over the years, and I appreciate that you gave me your time and trust. If you need to contact me, have an opinion or make suggestions, write me at or at my Facebook page.

On you will find many interesting and free articles about the world of photography, from microstock to less known shooting techniques.

Moreover, if you want to do it, you can deepen your photographic knowledge bag through the other books of SmartPhotography Studio series.

If you find a minute to leave a book review online, I would really appreciate it. It will allow me to improve and propose new books closer to your needs.

Thank you,


FREE BONUS - The first chapter of



Five reasons to choose microstock

Everything began in 2007. That year I accidentally discovered the microstock phenomenon, online photo agencies that select your images and resell them for a few cents or dollars to end users, giving you a fee that, at that time, started from the 25 cents per image sold.

A fee like that didn't thrill me at all and I thought it was the usual "Internet scam."

I was a mere beginner and I hadn't even thought that a picture, for which you earned 25 cents if sold 1,000 times creates a gain of $250. I hadn't considered that I could produce so many images like that and these images could be sold when I sleep, when I'm on vacation, when I don't want to take pictures because I have a bad day...

My journey into microstock photography started, but it wasn't started for money: those were a pleasant consequence. My journey into microstock photography started for these 5 reasons, and I am convinced that they can also give you good motivation:

- To Improve as a photographer; to improve on the job and achieve good levels of photographic technique confirmed by market results. First, you'll acquire requisite skills as a professional photographer.

- Competition; if you like competing with yourself and other people and measuring your progress, you have the right eBook in your hands. Microstock tells you if you're good with real numbers and it constantly measures your performance.

3) Adventure; you can start a business from scratch, inventing yourself, searching for information, playing the small business owner but still manage to make it out safely. Microstock doesn't require large financial investments, only those for the basic equipment that you can repay easily with your first earnings. Moreover, microstock doesn't require sacrificing your current job to become a full-time photographer. In fact, if chosen as a part-time activity, it is a perfect fit for a full-time job because it allows very flexible time and commitment.

4) Freedom; the part-time photographer's work fits perfectly with that of employee and you can carry on both activities. If you persist in this adventure, one morning you'll fire yourself and deal only in photography, working when you want and where you want (but you need an internet connection!), with maximum freedom of movement both in space (why don't you deal with microstock from Thailand?), both in time (why don't work only three days a week or only in winter, dedicating the summer to something else?)

5) Money. Money is a pleasant result. The feeling of safety you have when you know you have a second income is priceless. We live in a time in which the job is not granted. The part-time photographer allows you to be much more serene in the case of a corporate restructuring due to market turbulences.

But there's an important concept that I want to make clear now that we are at the beginning of this path. It was not easy.

If you think you can take a camera, take some pictures to some monument when you're on vacation, put them online hoping the rest of the world buys them immediately, I have bad news for you: you're wrong. It doesn't work like that. Maybe you could sell a few pictures, but the difference between an amateur microstock photographer and the professional one is that the while the first shoots for personal pleasure, the second one can also do that and at the same time make money with his photos.

Working with a microstock agency is a real job. It involves passion, diligence and perseverance when results do not come. In exchange, it offers you flexibility, satisfaction, mastering a job and a second salary (which often becomes higher than the first one). If you approach this book as an "Earn $ 10,000 a month working 10 minutes a day", forget it. Microstock is a game, but a serious game.

It gives you a flexible commitment, but you still must commit.

Do you know kids? They play, but if you transgress the rules, they get angry! Microstock is the same thing: it's a game that, at an advanced level, can easily become a profession. Microstock has rules that require you to plan photography sessions even when you don't want because you’re tired (flexibility is a good thing, but you still must do something) and accepting the rejection of inspectors who will judge your pictures. Moreover, these rules will push you to not give up when results don't come immediately.

However, after a year, you'll realize you have repaid the loan for your photographic equipment; after two years, you can travel by paying for your vacation entirely with your online earnings; after three years, you can evaluate whether to become a professional or continue to flank microstock to a main job. It will be your choice.

Understanding microstock revolution

Microstock is a great ongoing revolution. In photography, it is the most important revolution immediately after the invention of photography itself and the transition from traditional to digital.

I won't tell the history of photography in this eBook, but I'll steal a few minutes of your time to explain why we are in a New Photo Renaissance, making you understand that you can be part of it if you want.

Internet and digital photography have completely upset the world of traditional photography stock (or archive photo). This revolution made an impact on the way the images are taken, developed, delivered and the nature of the entire business of photography.

The first consequence of this revolution is the reduction of costs. Today photography is cheaper thanks to the absence of the direct costs of material, such as photographic film (do you still remember it? It was a few years ago, not prehistory!) and dark room costs.

Also, logistics costs have been cut down, because you no longer need to physically send the photographs to the end customer in view of a print publication. Consequently, delivery times have been cut down, further reducing costs, because it allows a greater competitiveness to the customer who buys the photo and may publish it faster: for example, think about a newspaper or a website.

Moreover, management, cataloging and storage of the original photographs today are simpler, making the life of the photographer much easier than a few years ago.

But the most important consequence of this revolution, which is the central topic of this course, is the fact that working with photographic agencies has become much simpler. Dozens of photographic agencies were born online. They work exclusively on digital technology, making it possible even for amateur photographers to have an exhibition space for their works which was previously reserved only for professional photographers. The photo-esoteric team formed by a small group of professional photographers offering their pictures to agencies accepting photographs only by them are gone. Today anyone can jump into the fray and compete with more experienced photographers, proposing their shots to agencies which previously they couldn't propose themselves to, starting from microstock agencies. The esoteric knowledge is gone: everyone can participate in the competition, but everyone should be good enough and have methods.

If you are a newbie in the world of digital photography, you have the fortune to be in an excellent time to cultivate your passion.

The world of microstock (agencies that sell your images for a few cents thousands of times) was founded in May 2000 thanks to a website called iStockphoto (now only iStock), the first real microstock agency. From that moment, many agencies were developed: some were born and are still alive, some have closed and others have changed. Now we are at a time of full consolidation of this scenario and this allows us to plan a strategy to develop our path of online photographers.

What is commercial stock photography?

In simple terms, commercial photography is divided into two broad categories: photography on commission and stock photography (also known as photo archives).

For photograph on commission, the photographer works after receiving an order from a customer with a precise project and a precise final customer to be satisfied. For stock photograph, however, the images are made without the presence of a definite final customer, trying to intercept a possible use for that image.

The basics of stock photography, in which the microstock industry is placed, are simple and effective: give to a customer an image ready to use to promote his products or activities. The customer enters the archive, views images, and in a few minutes’, finds what he needs. Also, the cost for the customer is significantly lower than a dedicated photo project, as is the case for the photography on commission. Moreover, microstock online agencies sell images at very low prices, allowing even customers who can't afford in the past to access the archives to find what they need.

But who becomes the owner of the photo I sell?

You are always the owner of the photograph you sell through microstock agency, unless specific contractual clauses, typical of photographic contracts on commission.

You only sell the rights to use your images, but the owner is you only. However, in exceptional cases specified by a contract, things may change.

Indeed, there are two main types of rights for your images, respectively called rights-managed (RM) and royalty-free (RF).

If a customer buys one of your images with RM license, he can use it with limits set in a contract that indicate their time of use, the type of publication for which he can use it, the exclusivity etc. As you can easily understand, the use of images with RM license is quite complex.

Completely different is the case of purchasing an RF license. In this case, the customer can use your image as many times as he wants and with no time limit. The only limitations are related to the use of your image on other products which he will resell, such as printing a photograph on a shirt: in this case, you will be recognized with some additional royalties, different for each microstock agency, which go under the name of extended licenses. Therefore, from the moment you create an image, it will always be yours and you'll not sell its property, but the right to use it. For the microstock agencies, it consists mainly of an RF license.

Can I sell a picture of my cat?

NO. Who buys microstock photography doesn't interest your cat, unless it's rare, it's doing something spectacular and the photo is technically perfect. Let's see some photographs I created several years ago and sent to microstock agencies. Let us analyze together what works and what sells, based on concrete examples to help us understand how to quickly become a successful microstock photographer.

Wrong choice. Not only is this photograph ugly, but it is wrong for microstock. This photograph will never sell because it's too general; the cat doesn't do something special, it is far from the camera and is taken from above. There is no reason why a customer should look for this photograph. Moreover, it can be easily created; a customer might just take this photo himself. This is exactly what you DON’T want them to do. Let's see the second example.

Correct choice. This photo royalties are about $600 in two years; not so bad. What comes to mind looking at it? Amsterdam, Netherlands, clean energy. It's a photo that works. It could be used for a travel brochure or on a local tourist site, or on a book about renewable energies. Analyzing the details of the image (saturated primary colors and good contrast help you sell an image), and focusing on the contents, we learn another important lesson:

It doesn't matter if a photo is beautiful. It is important that it works. This is the most important secret of this course.

A photo works if it attracts the eye of the customer and the eye of the customer's client. As pointed out at the beginning of this course, my client has a problem to solve and I must help him, otherwise, I'm useless. In this situation, his problem may be to prepare a brochure for a travel agency that offers trips to Amsterdam. During the years, all of us create some mental stereotypes, so usually we match Amsterdam at mills... and, in fact, this topic sells a lot.

Do you want to know a strange thing about this photo? Despite being searched for (and sold) by using the keyword "Amsterdam," it was taken in a small village about one hour by train from the Dutch capital.

Often the picture of how you imagine a place sells more than a photo that represents what it is.

Here's another ugly photo that I took 11 years ago, at the beginning of my career as an aspiring microstock photographer.

Wrong choice. What's the meaning of this photo? We can see trees, a mountain in the background, but its message is too confusing and it's not something a customer would search for in a picture.

This picture hasn't been refused by the microstock agencies I sent it because no technical reasons exist for doing so, but it has never sold in more than three years on the market. And now I understand the reason.

Correct choice. Gardening is a high demand niche market (think of how many magazines you can find). Moreover, this photo has an interesting look, formed by the three different and colorful watering cans into perspective. All this takes place in a context that recalls a greenhouse. This picture has made about $ 450 in two years, consisting of several purchases from 25 cents to $28, but the total sum is probably more than what I could achieve by selling this image a single time to a traditional stock agency.

Three bits of advice arriving from my personal experience

Time is the most important asset, not dollars. With normal technical skills, anyone can become quite a successful microstock photographer. The problem is in how much time.

The process of learning through mistakes and refusal in the microstock world is the reason why 80% of those who try don't survive to the first year. Rather than the technical capacity or the equipment of the photographer, the real difference between him and his competitor is the ability not to give up. But is there a way to speed up this process of climbing to success in microstock photography?

I have worked in the world of microstock for 10 years; I have had successes and failures. Maybe if I had some suggestions years ago, I'd be where I am today with at least a couple of years in advance.

In summary, I think the three things that would have accelerated my path as a microstock photographer are these:

Travels are an excellent source of photographs, but the market of Travel photography is full of offers. Remember to search online for what the market requires and only after take your photos, plan to visit places with few images available online.

- A photograph should work, not to be beautiful. A beautiful photograph of a cat is not interesting. A mediocre photograph about something unusual and rare, instead, sells a lot. The technical ability of the photographer is less important than to find a rare subject.

- Use the point of view of the final customer. The customer will buy your images because he has a problem that needs solving and you have the solution. The customer may have the need to advertise a tourist resort, illustrate a concept or use your image for a gardening website. Start thinking about how your image can be used, then create it. Long story short: you must solve your customer's problem.

Microstock costs time but little money, and walking on this path you will improve both as a photographer and business owner. The bottom line is that you’re building a business, although it can be a part-time job today or your full-time business in the future.

Microstock Photography: Welcome to the commonplaces!

The Web allows the microstock photography to live, but it also provides a wrong idea about it.

These are some opinions you can find online. I consider them dubious, not to say stupid.

Microstock photography means easy money.

I think the writer of this sentence has never tried microstock. Although today it's easier than in the past to get into the photography market, it doesn’t mean that it is easy to sell images. The microstock can be considered a game, but it's a serious game and has its rules. The first rule is perseverance even when the results do not come; so, lay up your dreams, the reality is that you must work hard in microstock if you want results.

Amateurs steal bread to professional photographers

The two revolutions that have greater hit on photography have been the arrival of digital cameras and the massive access to Internet. They arrived at the same time and it's natural that they have redistributed income among photographers. But be careful! It’s true that amateur photographers now take a slice of pie in a market previously dedicated only to the professionals, but it's also true that the pie is bigger, thanks to the low microstock prices that have attracted many new buyers who previously couldn't buy images. There has been an evolution of the photography: if you don't adapt to it, it will be difficult to survive as a professional photographer.

Why do you want to sell your images or photos at 20cents?

It's true that the price structure in microstock is very simple compared to the previous payment models (and this is an advantage for everyone, photographers and clients). But saying that you sell your creativity for 20 cents is a simplification that doesn't allow us to understand this phenomenon. First, because 20cents multiply by 1000 downloads is $200 for a photo. Secondly, I sold photographs for 20 cents but also for $80, depending on the agency.

These are the three sentences that very often I find online and are consequences of a lazy thought. I don't like polemics, but sometimes it's necessary to return a bit of clarity in a web clogged with distorted information.

Whether you’re interested in food photography, landscapes, or product shots, Smart Photography Studio: 3 easy steps to become a successful microstock photographer offers the comprehensive knowledge you need to edge out the competition. You’ll learn about the importance of light and color, how to process your images, and the post-production steps you must take to maximize your images’ potential. Here you can find time-saving photo optimizing tricks and tips to help you get the most out of your efforts – and become a successful microstock photographer!

By embracing the 3 Pillars of Success (quality, quantity, and niche), you can reach your audience and connect your creativity with theirs!

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