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Composition - The Essentials

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Join 's Course: 4-Week Short Course: Composition - The Essentials Learn the basic skills in photographic composition in order to elevate an ordinary shot to an extraordinary one. This four-week online photography class is taught by photographer and author Simon Stafford. It is dedicated to developing the essentials that will help you add an extra dimension to your photographs.

Key Features

  1. Guides to composition: format, subject placement, lines, patterns, etc.
  2. The tools of composition: lens focal length, Depth of Field, tripod, etc.
  3. Near and far: framing, looking for alternate compositions, camera angle, details, etc.
  4. Light and time: form, texture, times of day, shutter speed, modifying light, etc.

  • Use established guidelines to help structure your composition
  • Make effective use of focal length and lens aperture.
  • Learn how a tripod is your best friend when it comes to composing a photograph.
  • Explore the options of framing, subject placement, and controlling the use of space in a composition.
  • Make the most of light and time to support and complement your composition.

$198.00 USD

What You Get


You get direct feedback on your photos from world-acclaimed, professional photographers. You can learn photography in this way from anywhere in the world.  
  • Learn at your pace, with structure.
  • Be guided by a real pro instructor.
  • Get your photos critiqued every week.
  • Join students from around the world.
  • Go far beyond any book or DVD.
  • Make great pictures, again and again!



Photography Instructor: Simon  Stafford Simon Stafford
Simon Stafford first became interested in photography while a university student. Completely self-taught, he talked his way into a job as the photographer for the university's weekly newspaper and has been shooting pictures ever since. His photographs have been used widely in newspapers, books, calendars, and magazines, and he has also enjoyed numerous successes in many photographic competitions.

Simon has built up a wealth of experience over the past thirty years in both film and digital photography. Throughout his photographic career he has used the Nikon system extensively, adopting digital photography at an early stage with the release of the Nikon D1 camera during 1999; he has being using digital cameras exclusively since 2004. He completed his first book, The Nikon Compendium, during 2003. With nearly 400 pages and Simon's own extensive photography of Nikon cameras, Nikkor lenses, and Nikon system accessories, it represents a comprehensive history of the Nikon system for the user and collector alike. He has also written over twenty books on the Nikon camera system for the Magic Lantern Guide series, published by Sterling Publishing.

He is involved in a wide variety of photographic projects, which include leading his own photographic workshops and, tutoring workshops for Tatra Photography, contributing illustrated articles to leading U.K. photography magazines, he is also Technical Editor to Nikon Owner magazine.

Sample Photos by the Instructor

© Simon Stafford 

© Simon Stafford 

Course Outline


Lesson 1: Guides To Composition
Choosing between a vertical and horizontal format. Placement of the subject within the frame. Use the subject to fill the frame, or show it within the context of its surroundings. Using the "Rule of Thirds", lines, shapes and patterns to strengthen and support the composition. Avoiding empty space in a composition and checking it for distracting elements.
Assignment: Shoot images that make use of the guides to composition that are covered in the lesson.

Lesson 2: The Tools of Composition
Using different focal lengths to alter the angle of view and control perspective. Creative use of lens aperture to isolate and emphasize the subject. Determining the depth of field and using it effectively, including use of the hyperfocal focusing technique. Using a tripod - the benefits, techniques, and tricks.
Assignment: Use different focal lengths and vary the aperture in order to make use of the tricks and techniques in this lesson.

Lesson 3: Near and Far
Framing - what you leave out can be more important than what you leave in! Seen in a scene - learn to study a composition and see alternative pictures. Determining the most effective camera angles. Details - less is often more; discover how shooting up close can be very revealing.
Assignment: Work with different camera angles, and try shooting close up!

Lesson 4: Light and Time
Use the light to reveal the subject, its form and texture. Modifying the quality of light using reflectors and diffusers. The best time of day for shooting. Control shutter speed to introduce a sense of time to complement the composition.
Assignment: Try shooting in different light, and experiment with different shutter speeds too!

© Simon Stafford 

© Simon Stafford 



  • A film or digital camera; an SLR type with interchangeable lenses is suggested.
  • A working knowledge of basic camera controls and the ability to control exposure using the lens aperture and shutter speed.
  • A lens, or lenses that cover an angle of view from wide-angle to a medium telephoto.
  • A lens with a close (macro) focusing ability is suggested.
  • A camera with a Depth of Field preview function is recommended.
  • A tripod is recommended, strongly.
  • Any image editing software that can open and process image files produced by your digital camera, or film scanner.



As this is an on-line course, must I use a digital camera?
This course is open to film and digital shooters alike! However, if you do shoot on film, you will need to convert your film images into digital files to enable them to be uploaded to for display in the course gallery and for critiques of the assignment shoots.  

I only have the lens that came with my camera. Will it be suitable to get the most out of this course?
Provided the lens covers a range of focal lengths between wide angle and medium telephoto, you will have no problem. Ideally, for a 35mm, or full-frame digital cameras, the focal length range should be around 28mm to 100mm (18-70mm for digital cameras with a 1.5x conversion factor to allow for their smaller-sized sensor).  

I usually shoot using automatic exposure control. Will this limit my ability to complete the course assignments?
Using automatic exposure modes such as Aperture-priority or Shutter-priority will not present a problem, provided you know what lens aperture and shutter speed values your camera sets and how these change. It is important that you do understand the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, and how this affects exposure. It is recommended, strongly, that you avoid using Program, or any other form of fully automated exposure control.  

I have a tripod, but find it awkward to carry and time-consuming to use. Is a tripod necessary for the course assignments?
As you will learn during the course, there really is no substitute for a tripod! Not only does it improve the technical quality of your pictures, it is also an aid to composition, since it slows down the photographic process, thus making you approach your photography in a more considered manner. Next to a camera and lens, a tripod is probably the most important piece of photographic equipment, and after a little practice, you will not want to leave home without it!  

© Simon Stafford 

© Simon Stafford 

Do I have to be online at any specific time?
No, you do not need to be online at any specific time. The lessons are sent to your email and you are also provided the Campus Square - where you interact with your classmates and instructor. This is also where you upload your photos to be critiqued by your instructor. The instructors are very punctual and respond quickly.

Will I have access to the instructor to ask questions during the photo course?
Absolutely! Students can ask questions in the special Q&A forum set up in the course's Campus Square, or can ask the instructor via email.

Do you offer a money back guarantee?
Yes. We are confident that you will fully enjoy our courses. All the same, for our 8-week classes, we offer a 100% money-back guarantee before the Wednesday that Lesson #3 is sent out. If for any reason, you are not satisfied and let us know that you would like to withdraw before the Wednesday that Lesson #3 is sent, you will be promptly refunded.

For our 4-week courses, we offer a 100% money back guarantee before the Wednesday that Lesson #2 is sent out from BetterPhoto. If for any reason you are not satisfied and you let the ordering department know that you would like to withdraw before the Wednesday that Lesson #2 is sent, you will be refunded within 7 days. After the second lesson has been sent out, no refunds will be given.

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