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Mastering Photographic Composition and Visual Storytelling

Lesson 19 of 50

#1 Reason Photographs Fail

Chris Weston

Mastering Photographic Composition and Visual Storytelling

Chris Weston

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Lesson Info

19. #1 Reason Photographs Fail


Class Trailer
1 Your 10,001st Photograph 03:24 2 Camera Gear 03:03 3 Piece of Gear We Always Forget 03:47 4 Be a Storyteller 03:09 5 Finding Ideas For Photography - Know Your Subject 06:59 6 Cae Study - Why Are Zebras Black and White Striped 01:30 7 Photograph What You Love 02:00 8 See the Extraordinary in Ordinary Things 01:31

Lesson Info

#1 Reason Photographs Fail

Over the years, I've reviewed tens of thousands of images, and the conclusion I have come to is this. The number one reason a photograph fails to get its message across is because there's far too much information cluttering the image space. Think about a sketch artist. He starts with a blank canvas. Then he adds visual elements, line and shape, color, pattern and texture to build the visual story and create an image that gets to the essence of his subject. Sketching oil painting, watercolors, cartoon drawings. They're all arts of addition. You start with nothing a blank canvas, and you add to it until you get the final image. As a photographer, however, you don't have the luxury of starting with a blank canvas, because when you look through your viewfinder, it's already filled with visual elements. But there's no structure. Everything is random. Your role, then, as the photographer, is to bring order to that chaos. And to do that, you start by identifying first the elements in the scen...

e that add to your story and then those that distract now to show you what I mean. Take a look through my viewfinder, this old winches affectionately known locally as Red Crane. It's a steel replacement of a hand operated wouldn't winch. It was first used a load blocks of Portland Stone on the waiting ships before it was moved here in the early 20th century and used to lower fishermen and their boats down to the sea. Although it's still in use, the ravages of weather and its proximity to Portland's Wild Sea has left it rattled and haggard. That's the story I want to tell now. In this composition, there's too much information distracting you, the viewer from my intended story. For one thing, the crane is partially obscured by the big rock. There's a dad and two kids on the left, a guy fishing over on the right, next to a woman sunbathing and tourists wandering around in the background, which are all distractions. And then we have the boat in the lighthouse, which is dominating the space. All of the visual elements. I've just identified a bits of information that they're taking your attention away from the narrative of my story, and now that I've identified them, I have to simplify the composition by getting rid of them effectively. I have to remove them from the picture space. So here's my new composition. I've moved closer to the crane, so it fills the frame. I've changed with vertical format, which crops out the distracting people along with the boat, and I've positioned the foreground struck so it hides the lighthouse by removing all the distractions I've made my story unambiguous. Removing distracting visual elements is, I think, the most important part of composition on all of the tools you need to do it right here in the camera. And in the next lesson, I show you what they are and how to use them. No.

Class Description



  • Compose a shot consistently and effectively
  • Create artistic, powerful images quickly
  • Gain confidence in building narrative
  • Identify what stories you’re drawn to photograph
  • Brainstorm and develop concepts for creative shots
  • Trust your instincts when approaching a subject


CreativeLive is partnering with Chris Weston to offer you his Complete Photography Master Course. This is the second class in the series.

Today, everybody has a camera, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s a photographer. Chris Weston will show you how to do all the other stuff – how to “see” an image, tap into your creativity, and compose a photograph that makes the subject look as good in print as it does in real life.

This class isn’t about cameras, it’s about you – the photographer. It will break free your creative mind, get you thinking about narrative rather than object, and show you how to apply simple artistic skills that turn that next click into a powerful photograph.

Learn how to approach photography like a pro and start creating great pictures straight away. With in-the-field lessons, case studies and powerful tips and techniques, you’ll quickly unleash your creativity and gain confidence in expressing yourself through your camera.


  • Beginner photographers
  • First time DSLR or mirrorless camera users
  • Any photographer who wants to hone their artistic skills


Named one of the world's most influential wildlife photographers, Chris Weston takes a contemporary approach to photography. After launching his career in 2001, the Fujifilm ambassador's images have graced the pages of top publications like BBC, The Times, Outdoor Photography, Practical Photography, and Digital Photography. As a photography educator, Chris has written over 20 photography books, along with leading photo tours and online workshops.


Edmund Cheung

Perhaps the style of presentation and simple, short, and direct messaging does not "jive" with some; but others may really love this. Yes the production of each episode is stylized and perhaps a bit formal (like a TV Show?), but there is something to be said about it. Perhaps this is not meant for professional photographers? I think of myself as decent amateur / high level photographer. I found lots of great nuggets of wisdom and inspiration from this. Especially when I an in a rut for creativity. Yes I have heard all these concepts and ideas before. BUT it is always great to hear and see a different way of presentation and voice. Please do NOT take the naysayer reviews as the end all. You should judge for yourself and watch a few episodes. If the style and content click for you, I would highly recommend this course.

Kai Atherton

While I am perhaps more advanced in my photography then this course. It is always great to be able to go back to fundamentals and remind ourselves of the basic principles, and even camera function. I thoroughly enjoyed this course and Chris's other. It is a great motivational jumpstart when lacking fresh creative idea's.

Abdullah Alahmari

Thanks a lot to mr. Chris Weston This course is great and It is a 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 course for me. Beside the other course ( mastering the art of photography ) both courses are Complementing to each other and highly recommended.