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think I’m completely crazy after reading this post…. but that’s ok. You won’t be alone. Michael was a little unsure about this one! :) A lot of people have commented and asked about how I set up composition in my images. I wish I had an easy button for this but I think seeing composition is something that just comes naturally to some people. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some tricks for improving your eye. When I first started, my images weren’t well composed. They weren’t awful, but they definitely had PLENTY of useless negative space and crooked horizon lines.

As I’ve continued shooting, I’ve adopted a few habits that allow me to have more consistent composition. I may be the only one that does this… but when I’m a little rushed on a wedding day, I shoot FAST… sometimes TOO fast. When photographers shoot too fast, the first thing to go is composition! You’re just trying to shoot in focus and expose correctly so sometimes your composition suffers. I have one little tip to share with you today that may help prevent having excess negative space in your portraits!

I’ve noticed that when I’m in the midst of shooting portraits,  I’ll walk up to the couple to give them some instructions before I start shooting and I will sit my heavy bag down when I’m talking to them. Then, I’ll back up to start shooting and sometimes I leave my bag in the foreground! To most, it looks like my bag would be in the frame, but it’s not. I use my camera bag as a reminder to slow down and create great composition! When I look through my lens and see my bag, it reminds me to crop up and keep the bag out of the frame. This gets rid of the unnecessary negative space! I can’t shoot rapid fire because I’ll have a mustard yellow bag in the frame and that would create MORE work later. So I slow down, I moved my AF point and I set my shot up without excess negative space in the foreground. See examples below!  Ps. The only reason I have these shots WITH my bag in the frame is because I wanted to write this post one day. I don’t crop these afterwards. I use the bag to make me aware of negative space and crop well in-camera while shooting.

So for this shot of Ryan and Megan, I moved my center focal point down a little bit and focused right on their heads. I made sure that their feet weren’t cropped and that I had plenty of space around the edge of the frame! However, I also made sure that I didn’t have a ton of negative space in front of the couple (extra road) by cropping out my camera bag. 

If I had shot this next image with a ton of black asphalt in the foreground (like the behind the scenes shot below), it wouldn’t have been quite as powerful of an image. That black asphalt is a distraction that isn’t necessary. So, I showed Kerri and Hutch how to pose and then I walked back past my bag to start shooting and I cropped up…. you can see the final image (without the bag) below! 

Isn’t the “tighter” shot more pleasing to the eye?! I think so too. And my little camera bag trick helps remind me of this when I’m in a hurry!

This is a really good example! Not only can you see how I’m using my bag as a marker of where I HAVE to crop, you can also see why Julia’s skin is so beautiful in the final portrait! There was a beautiful reflection from the sunlight hitting the stone! ps. Don’t look at how awkwardly I’m standing. So weird. 

Another reason why I wanted to crop tight in these shots is because of the light. I didn’t want to have those “hot spots” in my frame.  So once again, my bag helped remind me to crop up and get rid of all of that negative space in the foreground! 

Do I HAVE to have my bag in the foreground in order to compose well? No. It’s just one of those little things that I’ve noticed happening here and there. To me, it’s helpful…. except when I back over my bag and fall in front of a whole bridal party!! You can view that HERE!  So only use this idea carefully!! :)

xoxo, Katelyn
25 Comments Ask Anything, Education
  1. Urška Majer reply

    I’ve never seen anyone do this but it sounds like a great trick :)

  2. Kristi reply

    That is a great idea! Thank you for sharing with us!

  3. LOrin reply

    What a handy dandy tip. Will definitely be putting this to use at my next shoot :) THanks, Katelyn!

  4. angela reply

    Thanks for the tip! These photos are beautiful. What lens were. You using for these shots?

  5. Kelsey DeWitt reply

    Love this tip!!

  6. Mandy reply

    I’m not even a photographer and I loved this post! It’s really neat to see some behind the scenes, and I love learning about composition because that’s one of the things that makes your pictures stand out from others! (And I was cracking up at the tripping over the bag part…you’re so funny!!) :)

  7. Jaimie reply

    Great tips Katelyn! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Brenna reply

    This is such a great tip! I always feel rushed at weddings when the bride and groom are antsy to get to the reception and not really concerned with photos. thank you for sharing! can’t wait to try it out at my next wedding!

  9. Stacey reply

    I’m wondering the same thing. What lens are you using? Thanks for the wonderful advice I usually set my bag down along the side of the image somewhere but I really love this idea!

  10. Digna Toledo reply

    totally awesome. thank you for sharing. this will help me a whole lot. you are awesome!!!!!

  11. Annetta reply

    What a neat idea!

  12. Kristina W. reply

    This is like composition 101, I love it!

  13. Amanda Long reply

    Thank you for such a great tip! I loved the bloopers post link at the end. Ps where to you get your super cute dresses? I can’t find anything that isn’t a suuuuuuper short party dress or a ‘watch amanda trip’ maxi dress.

  14. Natalie reply

    I love that you do this! What a great way to remind yourself to slow down, focus on composition, and create images that are more dynamic! Love!

  15. Susan reply

    Love It!!

  16. Jennifer hudspeth reply

    Thank you for this **very** helpful tip! may i ask what lens you are typically using when getting these shots? thank you!

  17. Rebekah Carter reply

    I’m not a professional photographer or even really an amateur one but this is such an awesome concept!

  18. Leann Moore reply

    I have little tricks I use like this when I am designing with flowers. It comes with lots of experience and finding out what works best for you.

  19. Sydni Jackson reply

    So helpful! Could you do a post about how to find reflected light in the shade without getting uneven shading/lighting? It’s so tricky…

  20. Anna reply

    Hi Katelyn,
    I read your post and looking at the julia’s portrait i was wondering how close you were to your model, it seems like you were just in front of her nose! And then, in your behing the scene picture you show how far away you are! Can you please share what lense you used to take her portrait? Thank you in advance! Anna

  21. Katelyn reply

    Great tip; thanks so much for sharing! I leave things on my beanbag sometimes when I’m photographing newborns, but I hadn’t thought to do it for family photos!

  22. Iane Gomes reply

    I have never imagined that! That’s a great tip. Thanks for sharing!

  23. Grace reply

    Hey! This is a fabulous tip for a fellow lightning shooter! I’d love to know what lens you are using here.


  24. K. Lenox Photography reply

    Great Tip!!! Using the camera bag as a reminder to slow down and check composition! Genious!

  25. Vero reply

    Great post. Question. What Camera do you use?

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