Photojournalism and Composition

Jodie L. Morgenson
Nebraska City High School
Nebraska City,  Nebraska

Overview and rationale for lesson
Composition is step one in a long line of items one must know to take quality, publishable photographs. Students will explore photos they find desirable. We will read the section of the book, “How to Take Great Photographs With Any Camera,” by Jerry Hughes, on Composition. We will discuss, the Rule of Thirds, Hot Spots, Framing, and Cropping. Students will compile a scrapbook of photos that display the above qualities.

Goals for understanding

  • Knowledge and skills
  • Recognize composition principles and their impact on photography
  • Essential questions:
    • What is composition?
    • What is the Rule of Thirds?
    • What are Hot Spots?
    • What are some different types of framing?
    • What are your choices when you go to crop a photo?
    • What does it mean to “disturb the frame”?
    • What should you do if your pictures are turning out less detailed than you’d hoped?
    • What is a Vantage Point?
    • What does “Sense of Place” mean?
    • Find some examples of photos you like.
  • Critical engagement questions:
    • Why did you choose those photos?
    • What qualities do they have that you like?
    • Which photos you chose are examples of some of the aforementioned qualities?


  • Students will have been asked to bring three photos they like the previous day, so they should each have the photos ready to share. The photos could be from a magazine, newspaper or a photo they, a friend or family member took.
  • Students will read the section on Composition from “How to Take Great Photographs With Any Camera,” by Jerry Hughes.
  • Students will discuss these factors in composition.
  • Students will look at and discuss photos exemplifying the rules of composition as discussed in the chapter.
  • The students will look at and discuss photos exemplifying the rules of composition as discussed in the handouts.
  • The students will present their own photos to each other, laying them out on the table and allowing one another to walk around the room looking at one anothers’ photos. I will encourage them to mingle and discuss these photos as they wander around the room.
  • As a whole group, we will discuss what qualities the students like about each photo they chose. (Most likely, if the photo was not chosen for sentimental reasons, the photos chosen will have one of the key components of good composition).
  • Students will be asked to create a scrapbook with three examples of each of the following:
    • the rule of thirds
    • Hot Spots
    • Framing (Horizontal, Vertical or Tilted)
    • Loose and Tight Crop
    • Disturbing the Frame
    • Proximity
    • Vantage Point
    • Sense of Place
  • The students will be welcome to use the three photos they brought as examples if they fit into one of the above categories. Depending on the ambition of the student, he or she would also be welcome to take new photos to put into his or her scrapbook.

The student will be graded on his or her completion of the composition scrapbook. Each photo should exemplify some quality of composition discussed.

Recommended readings and sources

  • Chapter 1 in “How to Take Great Photographs With Any Camera,” by Jerry Hughes
  • “In This Proud Land,” by Roy Emerson Stryker and Nancy Wood
  • pages 174-193 in “The Photographer’s Handbook, Third Edition,” by John Hedgcoe
  • “Photojournalism,” by the Editors of Time-Life Books
  • “Making Good Photographs” by Michael Forsberg, from the October 2000, Nebraskaland magazine.