Improving Composition

"More Pleasing on the Eye"

The need for improving composition is very much a case of subjective judgement.



There is no "correct" composition, although there are guidelines which have been compiled based upon experience and drawn from images that are very popular and considered pleasing on the eye.

If you are not satisfied with the composition of a photograph then shoot it again if you can. This illustration shows how to use digital imaging to handle those situations where a retake is just not possible.

There are guidelines on Composition in the Photography Techniques and Photography Tutor sections.


SITUATION - A Cormorant relaxing in its habitat.

An opportune shot taken whilst enjoying a morning's Kayaking on a Cornish reservoir.

Improving Composition

If only -

  • It had been possible to take the shot from a higher position so as to separate the bird from the bank. (Standing in a Kayak whilst handling an expensive camera is not to be recommended!)
  • There had been time to shoot more frames with different formats before the bird flew off.


Steps taken using Photoshop Elements version 5

If you have a different version or different software you will find that the techniques here will apply to your software even though the actual names and locations of functions may vary.

Improving Composition PE Screen 1

1 The first step is to extract the bird, the rock and their reflections. Begin by creating a duplicate layer with the image open in the Full Edit window. Select Duplicate Layer.. from the Layer menu, name it (in this example it is named Foreground) and click OK.



Improving Composition PE Screen 2

2 Open the Magic Extractor... window from the Image menu. The instructions at the top of this window explain how to use the tools. Use the Foreground Brush Tool to trace around the areas to be extracted and the Background Brush Tool to identify the areas to be deleted.



Improving Composition PE Screen 3

3 Click Preview to see how it looks and use the Eraser tools to clean up any areas which should (or should not in this example) be extracted.

Improving Composition



Improving Composition PE Screen 4

4 Use the various options from the Background drop list to help in identifying any areas which need cleaning up. Click OK when the extraction is complete.



The next step is to fill in the area behind the extracted bird on the rock with water and bank, as if they were not there.

Improving Composition PE Screen 5

5 With the Foreground layer Visibility box unchecked and the Background layer selected, chose the Clone Stamp Tool with a fairly large soft brush (from the drop list at the top).



Improving Composition PE Screen 6

6 Gradually cover the bird etc. by cloning from the surrounding water and bank.

More information about cloning is available in the Remove Distractions example.



Improving Composition PE Screen 7

7 Any hard edges can be smoothed out using the Smudge tool.

Tip - Drag the tool along the lines of any ripples in the water that need smoothing.



Improving Composition PE Screen 8

8 Select the Foreground layer in the Layers palette and check its Visibility box.

Prepare to resize and reposition the Foreground by selecting Scale from the Image/Resize menu.



Improving Composition PE Screen 9

9 Click and drag the Resize box to reposition the layer and the corner handles to resize it. (Avoid using the central handles as this will distort the layer.)

Click the green tick at the bottom right of the box or press enter when the changes are complete.



This composition leaves more space around the main subject and displays it in its habitat - an ideal wildlife image. The final step shows how to size and convert it to portrait format, if this is preferred.

More information about sizes is available in the Image Sizing example.

Improving Composition PE Screen 10

10 Select the Crop tool and specify the image size required in the options boxes at the top together with the resolution. Drag the tool across the image and adjust until the desired image is obtained. Double click to complete.

Improving Composition






Improving Composition

Remember to save the new image with a different name so as not to overwrite the original.

Click here to add this page to your favorites in case you need help improving composition again.


This example is just one of the many ways in which Photoshop Elements or similar software can be used to help you make better photographs.

Return from Improving Composition to the Photo Editing page.

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