Skip to main content

Framing and Composition Tips

Lesson 17 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

Framing and Composition Tips

Lesson 17 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

17. Framing and Composition Tips


Class Trailer



Course Introduction


Camera Gear for Travel


What Camera Gear Should You Buy?


Gear Bags for Travel Photography


Location Research and Pre-Trip Planning


Importing and Naming Conventions in Lightroom


Processing Images with Presets in Lightroom


Lesson Info

Framing and Composition Tips

Alright, let's look at some other concepts. The more we have in our inventory to think about, the more we can learn and make it more successful. So here we're in Iceland again, I've been to island, I don't remember, seven or eight times, I love going there. But here what we have is, we're leading somebody to a destination. This walkway, as it gets smaller and smaller, is kind of pulling you visually to that destination, where I want you to go, It'll kind of help you to do that. So let's look at some ways of leading your eyes to things in a frame. Here you just see the road as it gets smaller and smaller into space, that's pulling your eye down that road and towards the destination in the distance. I might end up cropping this one a bit because a whole bunch of kind of neutral stuff on the left and way over on the right but we have that helping. Here you see the large gravestone, the small one, and then your brain almost expects that to continue but instead there's a church. So it's p...

ulling you, at least pulling me, to that church, I don't know what your eyes are doing. This is a boat, and right now it's pulling me into the side of the frame, where I feel like I just went (huffs) as I got into the side of the frame, because my eye couldn't help but kind of just follow this edge right down here and when I did it just went boom. That's not good, for me, I don't enjoy that. But if I change my angle just a little, now that boat is just kind of motioning me down that river, almost as if I'm traveling down it. Might crop out the stick on the lower right and I'd probably crop out a good amount of the sky, I might crop down to approximately here, because what is there above that, is that really interesting sky? Not really, probably make it stronger if I crop down to about here, crop that thing out. But a lot of these images are straight out of the camera, some are adjusted, it's a variety. You just see the diagonal lines are just kind of sending you across the kids because that railing is getting a little bit smaller as it goes towards the right, and it kind of makes your eye go across them and helps guide you across. This one I wish I would have spent a little bit more time being patient, patience is one of the things it takes a long time to develop. But I just kind of did a click and thought I got it, and walked away. But look at that expression right there, that just doesn't quite do it for me. Had I just stood there for another minute I probably could have gotten it with better expression. I had pretty good on most of the others, but that one just doesn't do it for me. But you see that, just going off into the distance, pulling you with it. If you look at these lines that would make up the edge of the stairs and you keep them going up and up, where is it sending you? The lines from the ceiling, where does it send you? Right to where I put the subject. And that little walkway bringing you down. This one is in the Galapagos Islands, and I used a fish-eye lens, you don't see many fish eye images in the images I've been showing, but in this case the fish eye lens, pretty much I saw this curved shape, and I saw the tail of the iguana kind of coming right to almost meet it, and I just saw that and thought wait a minute, what if I get even more curvature in there? And I got a fish eye lens, I got down on my stomach, and got this one and it's just my eye travels around all those circles. Here just look at the angles right here, is that just sending you right here to your subject? This one here, sending you right to the subject. These edges here up to the subject. This one up to the subject. So it's just a matter of starting to look for those things, and the more you can find them, the more of those opportunities you have. Couple things to avoid, at least for me I try to avoid. There are things that make the image stronger, and there are things that make it weaker. So sometimes we look at those stronger images, like leading your eye into it, but what are some of the other things that can make it weaker? Well, this one is pretty clean, but let's look at another example. Look at what's happening on the edge of the frame on the right side. Do you see how the frame is cutting right through somebody's body? Well the edge of the frame feels almost like a physical thing, like I think it of it as almost like a knife sitting there, cutting through something. And that's not doing this guy a favor, it's cutting him in half. All it takes is a moment to wait for another opportunity and get it where it's not cutting right through the subject there. Be nice if my foot wasn't in the lower left but I know I can crop it afterwards. So I could always crop that out to make it stronger, I would crop out most of that sky over there to make it stronger and all that, but I'm thinking about the edge. Here we are in a garage that restores vintage buses. I happen to own the bus that's on the left, that will be my next home on wheels. And this is just a snapshot. Well snapshots are sloppy, they're not thought through. So after you get your snapshot, your initial shot, then start looking around. And do you see where the work bench on the right is being cut off on the edge of the frame, my bus on the left is being cut off? Just see, can you clean it up? Just move the littlest bit. In this case I'm no longer cutting off the bench, no longer cutting off the bus, you know that kind of stuff. It's just an iPhone shot, it's not trying to do anything overly special. But just look at the frame and say is there anything that it's cutting through that is being less than helpful? So here, do you see the boats on the left and right edges? How they're being sliced away? Compared to here, where I zoomed in a little bit to avoid those, or it could be a crop, that would be an easy crop. In fact that might have been a crop. So nice clean, it's okay if I'm chopping through something on the edge as long as it was thoughtful. I determined where it got cut instead of it just being by happenstance that it did that. One of my favorite things to do when I'm out shooting is to frame my subject. In that it is just finding something, it can be a doorway, it can be window, it can be the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. And you're using it to frame your subject. Here we're in Iceland again, same church, remember the one that had the walkway, well this is, there's a gate right below this. It would be like a white picket fence kind of thing, and you have to open the gate to walk in to this yard, and I've just cropped it where you can't see the gate. And so they had this above it. So I do that, later on I'll talk about working it further where you find even more elements like, you see the little gravestones, so that now we have more going on in the scene but that's later. This is Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. And that cow was sitting there looking at me. And I framed him up within the car, only had a couple of moments for that then he looked away and he had no interest in me. Here I'm in Iceland and I'm framing an iceberg in the distance using an iceberg up close that's almost all the way melted. It's kind of a, do you get a little bit of a disturbing feeling just from the horizon being off angle? I might of wanted to straighten that, but I'm shooting with my camera almost touching the ground, it's actually touching the iceberg that's closest to us, and so I can't see through the viewfinder in that case because I was using my old-school optical viewfinder on my newer camera. The screen tilts up on the back, so I could tilt it up and I could have framed it, and I could crop this one now. Person framing himself. Through a broken window, here I'm in a gas station that's right across from this place called Roys. And I saw that they had a hole in their glass, like a bullet hole or something. So I got up really close and I used it for what's in the distance. But most of the time the frames are more ordinary, those are just some other instances. Here we have this, it's an overcast day, I'm kind of like, god I wish it was a better day. And I'm like what can I do with this to make it just have some more life. Do you see the railing that's there, do you see the opening's in the railing? Well couldn't I walk up to it and use it as a frame, to frame that with? I might crop the right side so you get rid of those openings that are there, but that could be more interesting. It's not adjusted, it should be darkened a bit. Alright let's see her, so we get more into randomness let me grab some. Okay I find my subject. I found a subject, found a reason to pick up my camera. One of the things I often do then is look around, say is there a doorway, is there a gate, is there an archway, is there an opening in something, what is there? And is there any way I can walk over to it and somehow get the angle just right to frame that. And in doing so, isn't that much more of an interesting photograph than just that? So finding those frames takes skill as far as your mental abilities, but they are all over the place. And here I'll just show you a variety. A gate, or entranceway. You just need to get used to searching them out. And it just takes time, over time, I'm so used to this that it's so automatic, it's almost ridiculous. I don't think about it at all, I'm just, I find the window and I'm like what is there, what can I put in this? That's in an archway with a tree and I had to get down on the ground for one to line up with the other. We can keep going for days it's just, you know. So I find my subject, I don't like the people down there because it'd be fine if they had something to do with the subject that added to it, but instead since they don't the only thing they're adding is scale, and I don't know if that's, it's making my attention go down to the people. This is Hearst Castle in California so you know. This one's got some weird processing, it's got some black and white on it, I don't know why, I must have used it for a demo on a previous class, I didn't realize that. But once I find my subject, the other thing I do is I look for something else to include with it, because if all I do is take a picture of a thing, that's all it is, a picture of a thing. I want to make a composition, and so I try to find a foreground, and in this case I find some flowers in the nearby area. It served two purposes, once was to give something else to go with this, and the other is to get rid of those people, get them cropped out. Here this is an interesting place in California where there is a waterfall that falls directly onto a beach, how often do you see that? It's the only time I can remember seeing it. So I found that, that's my subject. But what else can I bring in to it? I don't want to just have a picture of a thing. So I look for a foreground, and what did I find in this case? Now this one would only work as a large print, because how small is that waterfall in that shot? That is something else I often think of is I try to capture images that both work large and small. This is an image that would work large. This is not an image that would look good one column wide in a newspaper. You wouldn't know there's a waterfall there, right? But I'll get this and then I'm gonna concentrate on now what can I do that would work small, you know, as a small print. And ill try to capture that too. Sometimes I try to throw that in to my mindset to mix up what I'm capturing. Iceland waterfall, but you see that little foreground greenery stuff. Gravestone, I found that, but that feels a little forced, it doesn't feel like it really goes just because of the big empty space there, so I work it a little more and there I found multiple with that frame, putting those concepts together. So when I find my subject, I'm going to often search for a foreground. Anything else I can add to it. Here's a fun little framing, my wife took that one. I use that on my business card. Question. Yes? A question that has been coming up over and over today is about making money as a travel photographer. Do you have, I know you have a sort of unique situation that you've created for yourself, can you talk again a little bit about that, but also, do you have tips for people who may want to try to make money with their travel photography? It's actually an area that I am more new to as far as that goes, it's not my primary way of income. My primary way of income is teaching, and for me my travel photography gives me more interesting things to show to teach with. And the teaching is where my primary income comes from, that's why I try to put a bunch of extra things in the class and talk you into buying. But when it comes to that, its a matter of, you have all different avenues and there are some books that will tell you about it. What is it, the Artist Market and things like that tells you about all these different places that purchase art of various sorts, it can be photography as well. There are different organizations you can become members of that also help you do that. ASMP is for media photographers I think, there's a whole bunch of organizations that can help you with some of that. But it's just a matter of figuring out what makes your photography stand out from others. Or what does this align with the most, what magazines do you know of that use this style of photography, and how can you approach them or get them to know your work, that kind of thing. But it's not something that I explore as a primary focus for me, because my primary income is teaching. So I don't know that I'm the best person to actually answer that, unfortunately. But it's hard for me to say exactly where to head there. There are also some conferences you can go to, for instance I speak at a conference called the Palm Springs Photo Festival, there's also one called Photo Fusion in Florida, where as Palm Springs is in California. And there they will have places where you can have your portfolio reviewed, and they're reviewed by people that often purchase, like magazines and publishers and things like that. You can get feedback, and often times you can ask them, so where do you think is the best market for this work, and get some advice from people that are more used to thinking about that. So I don't know, that gives you some ideas, but I wish I could give you a much more extensive one, it's just not my primary focus. There's lots of resources out there then? Yeah. Alright let's see, what else do we have? Take me just a moment to get to the next, there we go. Also things that can make for successful images is, if you think about it, most people experience life from either eye level or seated for the entire time they are outside traveling. And so the more you shoot from eye level or seated, seated just means they're at a restaurant or something where they happen to get that perspective, the more you're just delivering what they already have seen. And so therefor the images aren't quite as interesting. But it's not that often that you find an average person that does not have a camera doing that. Just to see what it looks like from there. You don't see that happening. You don't see them just crouching down like that saying, what would it look like from this angle? But if you see someone with a camera, you might. So if you try to get away from eye level, like here's your eye level shot. It's a fine shot, but its exactly what every other person saw that walked by. And so if they want to remember what they saw, fine, that would be a fine photograph, do it. But you're going to really pull them in if you show them something they've never seen. And what they've never seen is getting on the ground on your stomach and looking at this stuff from there. Unless they're a gardener and that's where they plant from, you know. So if you instead of shooting from eye level you get down there, this one is one my wife took, you're going to give them a different perspective. And that different perspective, if it's engaging it's something that's going to attract them I think a lot more, because it's not what they're used to seeing. Here I'm in Hong Kong and there are things called the mid levels, which are these escalators that go up through town. I mean they go up for blocks and blocks and blocks, so you can go up, I don't know, how many streets could you go up? 20 streets, just keep going up a hill. And they're just outside. There are all sorts of shops and restaurants nearby and they're elevated up above street level, and everybody is just cruising by and doing their thing. But I walked over to the edge and looked straight down. It gave me a completely different perspective, no one else was looking down there, and this is something you don't see if you're just walking by doing your normal thing, so I'm giving them a different perspective, just a restaurant down below. This is just a normal picture taken at eye level, but look at what happens when I get down near the ground. The vehicle is no longer there but it's a different view of that thing, so often times I'm trying to think how I can get to an angle or perspective that other people just would not look at. And often times that's getting down on my stomach or sometimes I cheat, I have a mono-pod. I don't always travel with it but depending on how I'm traveling I might have a mono-pod with me, and if I do I can put my camera on the mono-pod, and most people use a mono-pod for just stabilizing their camera. It's just a stick that helps you stabilize. Well I'll extend the mono-pod, I'll put my camera on ten second self-timer, I'll press the button, and then I'll extend my camera above my head to get to a perspective that you otherwise would not be able to get. Do you remember the picture of the Golden Gate Bridge where it was framed with the wires? Well you can't get to where those wires are unless you're jumping off the bridge. I had to use my mono-pod. And I had to extend it out beyond the railing and get it out in between those wires. My success rate when I can't see through the view finder is not very high. So I had to take about a dozen pictures. I would go out there, click, and bring it back and go oh, nope, angle's way off. And then I'd do it again, try to get the angle slightly different, click, do it back and do that, and finally I got what I was thinking about. But sometimes you use little tricks like that. This has been such an incredible day, I've got nodding heads in here and in the chat rooms. I really appreciate how you've taken us to how to even begin thinking about our travel photography, and not just the "oh I'm home now, what did I do right or what did I do wrong and how do I fix it all?" So it's really that sort of anxiety that we often get when we think about being a travel photographer, taking trips on our vacation, whatever the case is. So it's been awesome, you've talked about gear, you have talked about making plans and giving us tools for how to do the research beforehand. We've gone into a light room, and gotten some of that fast workflow, the presets when people by the class they get and can speed up their own workflows. And now that sort of theory around what you're looking for once in the field.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lightroom Presets Quickstart Guide
Lightroom Preset Sampler
Pre-Trip Planning
Actions Sampler Guide
Travel Photography Handbook
Actions Sampler
Lightroom Keywords
Big Set of Lightroom Presets
Practice Images
Travel Photogtaphy Mobile Guide
Gear List
Lightroom Tips and Keyboard Shortcuts

Ratings and Reviews


This was simply an amazing experience! Without a doubt the best investment of time and money I have experienced in quite awhile. Ben's complete command of the subject, the practical tips, suggestions and reference information was outstanding. I have enjoyed point and shoot photography for some time and recently decided to invest in some decent DSLR equipment (Canon EOS D70). I have a trip to Cape Town and Johannesburg South Africa rapidly approaching and thought it might be a good idea to take some classes and make an effort to get up the learning curve ASAP to take advantage of this travel opportunity. "Discovering" Creativelive and Ben Willmore's class was literally an answer to prayer! There is nothing like sitting at the foot of wisdom, taking notes, and having numerous "ah-ha" moments! This was great....looking forward to more classes. Thanks for the high quality effort!

a Creativelive Student

Genius! Ben is a brilliant master teacher - focused, clear and holds back no information. The best! This course has condensed the equivalent of 10 courses into one. He is a perfectionist in his approach and knows how to present the material. He is the leader in photoshop and photography "par excellence". Highly recommend any of his courses. Save your time and start with the best - everyone loves Ben!!!!

Nichole Sams

I feel the title of this class, Travel Photography, is much to limiting for what you are really going to get. As a wedding photographer, who dreams of traveling, I attending the class live in Seattle, and was hoping to get some inspiration for on location shoots. What I got, however, was a WHOLE LOT MORE. I would recommend this class to anyone with a camera and Lightroom. What I learned about how lightroom works and how to integrate it with photoshop is invaluable. I actually think they should charge WAY more for this course. The bonuses with purchase from the keywords (we are talking every key word you could possibly imagine) and the presets (holycow everything you would ever need) are worth exponentially more than the course price itself. Ben is a gentle easy going teacher and nice to listen to. His ease of teaching pretty complex ideas was truly wonderful. If you are reading this you must buy this course, it is well worth it!

Student Work