How One Weird Trick Improved My Photography Composition Instantly

How One Weird Trick Improved My Photography Composition Instantly

To see better, all you have to do is close your eye.

As a photographer, improving your photography composition is a lifelong pursuit. Those who take it seriously should be studying paintings and films to understand all the basic rules and subtle complexities that make a good composition great – but even with the academic knowledge in your head, it's a whole separate challenge to remember and utilize what you've learned on the fly.

Luckily, there's one simple trick to make it easier.

Improving Your Composition with One Trick

We all know that distracting background elements intersecting our subject can really sabotage a strong photo.

But in most cases – particularly in the heat of the moment during a shoot – it's not easy to notice background elements intersecting your subject. After all, you're paying attention to so many other things at once!

Part of what makes it so hard is that your eyes naturally view compositions with an extreme amount of depth of field. Stare at the rim of your phone or laptop as you read this – you'll notice that it's quite difficult to acknowledge whatever's behind it, right?

Here's the trick: close one eye and try again.

See what happens? Your depth of field crunches down, making it easy to spot the distracting elements behind your subject. If you normally see the world in f/1.4, this trick closes it down to f/8.

Normally you're fighting your brain to scan a composition through your viewfinder front-to-back. With this trick, your brain works for you instead of against you.

In practice, this is a lifesaver.

improve-composition-example-rita.jpg

For the above photo, I positioned Rita in a particular angle that framed her head and body as cleanly as possible by the undisturbed wall behind her. A little to the left or right and the TV would have cut in to her head. 

It was tough to navigate this shot in a busy, cramped green room, so I busted out the 'one eye closed' trick to help me compose it as well as possible.

The Science That Makes it Work

When utilizing both of our eyes, we see stereoscopic vision. It's what makes the world look '3D' – and what gives our understanding of depth, enabling us to pick up a pencil, catch a baseball, or punch a target with relative accuracy.

When you close one eye, your brain does a good job at approximating stereoscopic vision, but without the input from your second eye, it visually crunches the natural 'depth of field' and increases compression, making it much easier to spot a messy background.

Digital strategist, writer, and image maker based in Manhattan working with clients in the tech and entertainment industry.