How I Compose a Photo

My process is certainly slightly different for every image I make, but here’s a complete walk-through of how I composed this single photo, which may give you some insight into my process overall. So let’s get into how I compose a photo from the figures, their clothing, the scenery to the lighting, and editing.

Sometimes I track ideas and draw little compositional scribbles, but sometimes, like here, I go to my art space with only tiny bits of ideas.

Here I started with the thought of deer and Phicen figure (the brand of the figure you see here).

I already had my gold backdrop draped in my set, which I intended to keep for these gold animal images regardless. My gold backdrop, meaning a cut piece of gold wrapping paper.


My internal dialog – “What should she wear? What do I have for her to wear? The jumpsuits are too wild/colorful. She should be in white like in the last image, but more fully clothed. The robe!”

I then had to recall where I’d stored the robe, but I found it pretty quickly.


“The deer should look regal, and therefore spotlit, but the primary focus on the woman. The glitter at the deer’s feet should glimmer a little like he leaves a trail of magic.”

I light directly above the deer’s head, but with the light tilted slightly toward the woman. I place another light at the base of the set towards the deer’s hooves.


The deer is regal, noble, to be respected, but also an animal found in the wild, to befriend.

At minimum, the figure is interested in the deer, just coming upon it, she should offer it something.

So I pose the figure in mid-motion, holding flecks up to the deer. I can’t get her to fully look up at the deer and also be able to stand, so I move my camera angle up further, distorting the angle of her gaze just slightly.

I matched her pose to the angle of the deer’s neck and body.


To add interest and a forest-like aesthetic, I coil up some wire faux berries and slide them into the back of the set over the backdrop. I keep them heavier to the side of the scene with the deer as if the deer was emerging, and frame the light halo on the backdrop with the wire, so the focus remains on the figure.


I pull the image into Lightroom and adjust the contrast, shadows, highlights, blacks, and whites. I then open the image in Photoshop isolate the robe to adjust the bright white, dimming it a bit and adding a blue tint. Then bring the image back into Lightroom to add a vignette.

The shadow adjustments and vignetting are definitively part of my standard editing process, the robe color adjustment, and further, the copying and pasting in of more glitter around the image edges are going beyond that standard process. Sometimes though I notice slight adjustments that would be beneficial to the story I’m trying to convey, or simply an aesthetic I’d prefer. These adjustments, in this case, were more straightforward to create digitally rather than in front of the camera.

A bit of an aside – I also edited out the ankle joints on the figure, not perfectly, but enough that the spacing doesn’t distract from the important points of the image.

Talking through this and seeing the before and after here is honestly quite astonishing. It’s a process I think through slowly, one step at a time, and I forget through that all the bits that changed.

So there you have it

I hope you found this interesting or helpful, or something of the sort. The images I’m making currently, like this one, are less involved scenery-wise than some I’ve made in the past, so if you’d like a walk-through of any image I’ve ever made, just let me know and I will do my best to oblige.


2 thoughts on “How I Compose a Photo

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  1. I loved seeing what your steps are in creating a scene! You sure have a talent for taking bits and pieces and putting them together to make the image come alive. :)

  2. Yes, very helpful. I have a subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom, both of which I only use sporadically, but your post will help me make use of them a bit more. I like Adobe Spark, Which is now called Creative Cloud Express. I use that quite a lot. I bookmarked your post to read again, and again, if I need more help. Thanks.

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