Jun 7, 2011

Tips & Tricks: Photography Composition

Photography Composition

The composition of a photograph is the make or break point of an image.  You can edit a photo relentlessly in a photo editing program, but a photo is truly only as good as the composition it starts with.  In my real life I studied and focused on a major in Photography.  Real life and Second Life photography differ in quite a few ways, but when it comes to composition many of the rules apply to both.  I hope the following tips help you.

The Rule of Thirds

One of the most common and well known ideas in the photography realm is “The Rule of Thirds”  Not all images MUST follow this principle, but for certain compositions, and with your own judgement, it can be extremely beneficial in making a successful image.  The idea of “The Rule of Thirds” is that you are breaking your image down into thirds, both horizontally as well as vertically.  This will leave you with 9 different squares on your image. The theory follows that if you place your focus of your image in one of the intersections that is not centrally located in the dead center of your image your photograph will direct the eye to a place that is not centralized in your photo, causing the photo to be more visually appealing.

In plain english?  Don’t put your photography subject in the dead center of your image.  95% of my photos do not place my subject in the center of the image.  Even slightly off center is better the majority of the time.

Travel the Perimeters

This next tip is one that touches close to home for me.  In my real life, I had an incredible professor in college who I worked closely beside, who taught me this trick.  He sadly passed away in the summer of 2010.  He was a fantastic teacher and mentor and I miss him greatly.  He always told me to travel the perimeters of my frame before snapping my image.  Is there anything distracting in a corner.  Should you zoom in or out to remove/keep something in an image that is awkwardly showing?  Finding distracting objects in an image and making sure to fill the frame with what is important is key.  This will also make cropping less of a hassle later in your photo editing program.

Fill Your Frame!

This is so important. Especially when you are taking photographs of people.  This goes hand and hand with “Traveling the Perimeters”.  Look for empty space in your photograph, distracting objects.  Are we having to squint to see the person in your image?  Remember, a portrait is always about the person in it.  Make sure they are your focus and filling most of your frame.

Zooming with CTRL + 8,9,0

You know that awkward “fish eye lens” effect that happens when you zoom in on an object/person in Second Life?  It’s when you zoom in with your camera without using the hot keys available.  If you want to remove the distorted “fish eye lens” effect from your images you can hold down CTRL & use the keys 8, 9, 0 to zoom out, go back to original camera position, and zoom in.  This is one of the most handy tricks I use when taking photos in Second Life.


It helps to use a viewer that allows for background blur.  I use Kirsten’s viewer for fantastic DoF. DoF (Depth of Field) helps to create background blur which makes the subject of your image stand out, and the background less distracting.  If you are unable to use a photography intuitive viewer it’s okay!  You can still use composition techniques to make sure the background of your image is not distracting.  When photographing a portrait, one of the biggest items to check for is objects protruding in the background from your subjects head or body.  Are there tree limbs coming out of their head?  Something strange sticking out behind their arms?  This will help keep the focus on the subject of your image and keep the background at bay.

Visual Glitches

This. Is. Huge. In. Second. Life.  Pay close attention to visual glitching that occurs in your composition.  Are sculpts completely rezzed? Is anything still gray? Are textures not loaded and blurry?  If photographing an avatar do they have any piece of a apparel hidden partially in their body? Is their hair going into their shoulders or forehead?  Are their eyes focused  on you?  (rezzing a box and having them cam the box and you move the box around is a great way to focus an avatars eyes “on the camera”.)  These little details can make or break your image.  Not to mention, if fixed first, you won’t have to edit them later in your editing program, which can save loads of time and frustration.

Less is more.

I promise you simplifying your image can sometimes be the best for your photograph.  Get rid of distracting apparel with too many patterns.  Remove distracting objects from your image.  Keep your background clean.  Less is often times more in many things in life, especially photographs.  Just because you want to fill a frame, doesn’t mean you have to clutter it.


When shooting landscape photography in Second Life one thing I’ve noticed many people doing is letting their horizons fall dead center of the image.  Change it up a bit.  Place a horizon towards the top or the bottom of your image.  It just might be more visually appealing, and attract the eye to a different part of the image.


Play around with various windlight settings in Second Life.  This will effect the lighting and dramatic effect of each image you do.  If you are looking for some really fantastic windlight settings I use Strawberry Singh’s windlight settings more often than any others in Second Life.  They are fantastic.

Practice Patience

Take your time when shooting images in Second Life.  Often times setting up a “scene” in Second Life can be much easier, (although still time consuming) than setting up a scene in real life. The more time you spend composing your image, the less time you will have to spend fretting over it in your editing program.

Have fun with your photography!  I hope this tutorial is useful for you!



  • this is a great summary. thank you for sharing it

  • […] rotate and change angle, and hold Ctrl+Alt+ Shift to reposition your frame. I also learned from Harlow’s Tips & Tricks on Photography Composition that you can zoom in/out/return to original distance by using Ctrl+ 8,9, or 0. This allows for […]

  • […] Photography Composition […]

  • Thank you so much for the tips!! I know I’m a little late to the party, but what are you using now that Kirsten viewer is no more? I’m using the newest Firestorm for Mac and I just can’t get depth of field to work properly for me. Also, since downloading the newest version of Firestorm, things just don’t seem as crisp, even when I use the proper settings. Thoughts? :)

  • Hi, thank you for simple and very clear tutorial, it is great !

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