Improve Your Composition – The Human Factor


Learning the various compositional rules will undoubtedly improve your abilities to put together an interesting photograph.  Things like the rule of thirds, leading lines, and reflections all talk about how we support interesting subjects…  Leading lines to what though?  Reflections of what?

0314_untitled_010-3Nikon Df, Nikon 16-35mm, ISO 4000, 16mm, f/4, 30 sec.

First, what’s a factor?  A factor is a circumstance, fact, or influence that contributes to a result or outcome.  For our purposes here, the human factor is introducing a person someplace in your photograph to contribute to the result or outcome of an interesting shot.  Without the person in the photographs in this article the image would feel empty and lack the ability to center your attention.  The person (or persons) contribute to creating a more dynamic and interesting photograph.

0314_untitled_033-2Nikon Df, Nikon 16-35mm, ISO 5000, f/4, 30 seconds.

Adding the human factor to a photograph allows the viewer to engage the image with their imagination in different ways.  When you view someone in a photograph you can’t help but imagine that persons back-story…  Where are they from, how did they get there, what are they feeling?


You can enhance your landscape photography by including a friend or tourist rather than going to great lengths to avoid them like the plague.  When I first got into landscape photography I believed that the objective was to capture beautiful landscapes without anyone in them.  What I eventually learned was that landscape images that included the human element (mine as well as others) generally gained more interest from viewers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInstead of wishing these people fell off the cliff I used them to enhance the image, giving the viewer an idea of scale as well as the ability to project themselves into the image with their imagination.

Every year more and more people upload their increasingly better photographs onto the internet, saturating the world with millions and millions of images.  Finding unique images in growing increasingly difficult but there are still sure-fire ways of doing so.  Including the human element in your images is one of the best ways to create unique images.  When you introduce a new element to your photography you are moving another step closer to a unique image.

Having people scattered through your image like freckles on your face may not be the best approach though.  You’ll want to have people placed in strategic places throughout your image just like you’d position any other photography subject.  Now, you can’t very well start yelling at tourists to move here or there so you’ll have to wait patiently for the shot you want…  Like trapping a bear… but with people and without traps.

Reflections, the Rule of Thirds, as well as other compositional elements will work just like in any other situation.  The images below are an example of the process of positioning someone without them even knowing it.




These are a very simple example of waiting for your subject to step (or ride) where you want them for a dynamic image.  The last image works the best because of the timing of the flock of birds flying behind the riders and the riders positioning.

Don’t stand in one place, move around and try different angles.  Think about the available lighting and how you can use it to enhance the image (should the sun be in front of the subject?  Behind the subject?).  Try to incorporate humans into your photograph with making them the sole subject, think of them as a supporting element to the composition (otherwise you’d be taking a portrait).


Finally, using the human factor to enhance your landscape or cityscape images is the stepping stone to full-blown street photography.  Taking photographs of people in the distance will help make you more comfortable to photograph strangers up close…  Or it will make you a great stalker.  Enjoy!

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2 replies on “Improve Your Composition – The Human Factor”
  1. says: Becky

    Great article re people in the shot. Laughed outloud about wishing the people would fall off the cliff!!!!

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