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Photography Templates – Part 2

woman working in a factory in Bangladesh

Photography Templates – Part 2

Part 2: breaking the templates


As I mentioned in the first part of this article, while templates can help you capture the decisive moment, they can also be a trap that stifles originality. If you follow your templates too strictly you may end up capturing the same “predictable” compositions over and over again.


So how can we break our usual templates and come up with more creative images?

Hmong harvesting rice in North Vietnam

  1. The easiest way is to look at other photographers’ work. When you see an image from another photographer that really makes you stop and look, do you spend some time to analyze it? Do you try to understand what parts of the composition make you feel that it is special? We all have a lot to learn by looking at other people’s work, so that is a good place to start.


Pursuing this idea further, why not attend a photography workshop in a field that you are not familiar with? I participated in a photo documentary workshop in Malaysia earlier this year and it just opened a door to a whole new world. People were creating beautiful stories with series of blurry colors and shapes, something I could never have imagined before being a Travel Photographer.

Burmese monk's robe


  1. Technically, there are some tools you could use to help you achieve a new vision of things.

The most important of all is, of course, the light. By purely focusing on light (and shadows) you can start seeing things in a different way. If the light is only on a certain part of your subject, then remove the part which is not in the light, and your composition will instantly be different. By focusing on the light we tend to forget our templates and only follow the lines and directions the light is giving us.


  1. I also find it very useful to turn things the other way around when framing my image: instead of asking myself what I want to include in my frame, I concentrate on the elements that I do not need and I that want to remove. This approach complements the way you can use the light for your composition. Instead of thinking about your usual frame (subject, background, etc…) that you will naturally compose following your templates, you only think about the immediate essentials: the light and the lines it creates. By deciding to remove any other element, your brain does not try to compose using one of your templates, but simply follows what the light is dictating.

2 women selling bananas in the streets of Hoi An


  1. I think another very good way is to force yourself to use different camera gear. Of course, photography isn’t about the gear but using different tools can help break your usual pattern. When I see people being good at taking portraits with their 85mm or 100mm lenses wide open, I am trying to push them to spend some time with a 35mm at f8.0. This will force them to stop thinking the way they used to and look at things with new eyes. In the same way, you could try to change your usual aspect ratio; if you start shooting in a square format, the rule of thirds won’t have the same impact, and the way you see and frame will evolve.



  1. But the best way I think isn’t technical: it is more about working on your mind. By using different camera gear, different settings, aspect ratios, etc… what you are actually doing is putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. And when you reach this zone, you are also entering a brand new learning zone which does not happen when you do things you are good at doing.


By trying to change your state of mind (and I am not saying here you should go and shoot intoxicated, even though that could lead to interesting things), your composition will immediately change.


If you are a Travel photographer like me, why don’t you think of yourself as a photojournalist for a day? I find my compositions and approach to things are quite different when I am working on a long-term project and/or a series of images. Because I do not try to nail that one special shot – as I would normally do as a single image travel photographer – I can spend more time studying other elements of the given situation: working on details, shapes, patterns, or capturing deeper emotions on my subject as I can entirely focus on them, and not on the overall composition.

North Vietnam photography tour

Street photography is also a field from which I take a lot of inspiration. Walking the streets as a street photographer requires a completely different approach than travel photography. When I do it I need to refrain from shooting my usual stuff and look for new, original things. I am more looking for light and shadows, shapes, or funny things happening on the streets.


By getting out of your comfort zone, you need to create a whole new set of rules for your composition and that will lead you into experimentation and most probably learning a thing or two. It will probably be difficult and frustrating at first, but things are rarely interesting if they are too easy, right?



Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.


  1. Pics of Asia | Photography templates - Part 1 on January 6, 2017 at 10:23 am

    […] my tips to help you breaking these templates and come up with more original work, check out the Part 2 of this […]

  2. Paul J. Gardner on January 7, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Excellent article. I agree with everything you said. Besides looking at other photographers, can I suggest painters and cinematographers too? For example, check Edward Hopper or classic French films like ‘Three Colours: Blue’. So much to learn and enjoy.

    • Etienne on January 8, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Great idea, thanks Paul!

  3. […] About the author: Etienne Bossot is a travel photographer based in Asia. You can find more of Bossot’s work and writing on his website, blog, Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook. This article was also published here and here. […]

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