Composition and Your Camera Bag

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think I’m completely crazy after reading this post…. but that’s ok. You won’t be alone. Michael was a little unsure about this one! :) A lot of people have commented and asked about how I set up composition in my images. I wish I had an easy button for this but I think seeing composition is something that just comes naturally to some people. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some tricks for improving your eye. When I first started, my images weren’t well composed. They weren’t awful, but they definitely had PLENTY of useless negative space and crooked horizon lines.

As I’ve continued shooting, I’ve adopted a few habits that allow me to have more consistent composition. I may be the only one that does this… but when I’m a little rushed on a wedding day, I shoot FAST… sometimes TOO fast. When photographers shoot too fast, the first thing to go is composition! You’re just trying to shoot in focus and expose correctly so sometimes your composition suffers. I have one little tip to share with you today that may help prevent having excess negative space in your portraits!

I’ve noticed that when I’m in the midst of shooting portraits,  I’ll walk up to the couple to give them some instructions before I start shooting and I will sit my heavy bag down when I’m talking to them. Then, I’ll back up to start shooting and sometimes I leave my bag in the foreground! To most, it looks like my bag would be in the frame, but it’s not. I use my camera bag as a reminder to slow down and create great composition! When I look through my lens and see my bag, it reminds me to crop up and keep the bag out of the frame. This gets rid of the unnecessary negative space! I can’t shoot rapid fire because I’ll have a mustard yellow bag in the frame and that would create MORE work later. So I slow down, I moved my AF point and I set my shot up without excess negative space in the foreground. See examples below!  Ps. The only reason I have these shots WITH my bag in the frame is because I wanted to write this post one day. I don’t crop these afterwards. I use the bag to make me aware of negative space and crop well in-camera while shooting. So for this shot of Ryan and Megan, I moved my center focal point down a little bit and focused right on their heads. I made sure that their feet weren’t cropped and that I had plenty of space around the edge of the frame! However, I also made sure that I didn’t have a ton of negative space in front of the couple (extra road) by cropping out my camera bag.  If I had shot this next image with a ton of black asphalt in the foreground (like the behind the scenes shot below), it wouldn’t have been quite as powerful of an image. That black asphalt is a distraction that isn’t necessary. So, I showed Kerri and Hutch how to pose and then I walked back past my bag to start shooting and I cropped up…. you can see the final image (without the bag) below! Isn’t the “tighter” shot more pleasing to the eye?! I think so too. And my little camera bag trick helps remind me of this when I’m in a hurry!
This is a really good example! Not only can you see how I’m using my bag as a marker of where I HAVE to crop, you can also see why Julia’s skin is so beautiful in the final portrait! There was a beautiful reflection from the sunlight hitting the stone! ps. Don’t look at how awkwardly I’m standing. So weird.  Another reason why I wanted to crop tight in these shots is because of the light. I didn’t want to have those “hot spots” in my frame.  So once again, my bag helped remind me to crop up and get rid of all of that negative space in the foreground!  Do I HAVE to have my bag in the foreground in order to compose well? No. It’s just one of those little things that I’ve noticed happening here and there. To me, it’s helpful…. except when I back over my bag and fall in front of a whole bridal party!! You can view that HERE!  So only use this idea carefully!! :)

Learn How to Get Composition Right With Your Camera Bag | Katelyn James Photography

Thanks for reading!

— Katelyn

Samantha + Evan Private Estate, Backyard Wedding

I’m so excited to share this final 2020 Wedding with you all!! It’s a special one! We photographed this beautiful wedding day on our own 10 year anniversary! Ten years ago on this day, we were celebrating in my parent’s backyard under a massive white tent too! This was my brother-in-law’s baby sister’s wedding day and celebrating with the Malizia family was such a treat! They are a family MADE for weddings!


Well, I realize this isn’t normal for KJ! I don’t shoot portraits these days but this session was my first non-wedding shoot with my new Canon R6 and I’m obsessed with how these images turned out! It was the most perfect evening for this early fall shoot and the light was incredible!


Nick + Katherine | Maternity Oatlands Historic Home and Gardens Portrait Session


KJ Student Spotlight October 2020

I’m so excited to share another addition of Student Spotlights from our KJ Education community! It’s so funny to us, but quite often, we find that our friends who know us in everyday life but aren’t in our industry really have no clue what we do! They think we shoot 10 weddings a year and that’s the extent of our work these days but oh… that couldn’t be further from the truth!


Jesse + Hope | Engaged A Fan District Engagement Shoot

When we first decide if we’re a good fit with our potential KJ Couples, we’re looking for a few things…. one of those things is that this couple keeps joyful! We’ve found over the years that couples what take themselves super seriously aren’t always the best fit for us! We love it when couples let their guard down and allow us to get to know them during their engagement session.


For some photographers, bridal details seem like a fun part of the wedding day… but for many others, it’s stressful. It’s the part of the day that throws them off, makes them wonder if they’re actually artistic and leaves them feeling flustered and panicked because they never get everything done in the time they have allotted for detail shooting. In my opinion, this is a REALLY tough way to start a wedding day.


How To Photograph Bridal Details KJ Bridal Details Mini-Course

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Jonathan+Melanie Grand Ivory Wedding

Oh, this wedding day!! What a beautiful Texan dream! I met Melanie when she attended one of our workshops years ago in our home. She had the sweetest spirit and such a kindness about her. I remember loving how she made personal marketing her own and did headshots in a pile of Skinny Pop!! I loved her creativity and her ability to envision what she wanted in her brand.




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