How to control brightness of the background when using flash

Click on the photo to see it larger.

By changing your ISO when using your flash, you can change the look of the background. For example, with the camera on a tripod and using Aperture priority mode, all I did between these three photos was change the ISO from ISO 100 [far left], ISO 400 [center], and ISO 2000 [far right].

I have the flash-off camera to the left, as shown in the diagram below. The flash setting is the normal mode. The flash is in the TTL model, so it is adjusted as needed to the scene.

Click on the photo to see it larger.

I did the same thing in these three and just changed one setting. The flash mode is set on “slow sync mode.”


As the ISO increases, the odds of you blowing out the subject with the flash will increase as you lower the ISO, the darker the background.

As you change the ISO, shutter speed is the only other setting changing since I am in Aperture mode. Now, unless you want a blurred image, you need to keep that shutter speed close to the lens’s focal length. If you have a 35mm lens, try shooting at 1/30 or faster. If you shoot with a 200mm lens, you need to be at 1/200 or 1/250.

I have the flash on the camera with a white dome and bounce for these photos. The images are so similar because the shutter speed adjusts to make the background match the foreground subject.

If these were not on a tripod, you would see much more blur with the first shot at 1/6 shutter speed.

ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/6
ISO 400, ƒ/1.8, 1/25
ISO 6400, ƒ/1.8, 1/500

I suggest doing a few test shots in a room with your eye paying close attention to ensure the background is the ratio of brightness compared to the subject and that the shutter speed is high enough to give me a sharp image. This photo is where I moved the camera during the 1/3 shutter speed. You may want this look.

Are you controlling your camera, or is it controlling you? The more you understand how the camera works, the more creative you can be and decide for yourself what the look will be in the final product.


Want Silky BOKEH? Get Closer!

Nikon D750, Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D, ISO 12800, ƒ/5, 1/200

I shoot wide open with the Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D lens. Since I am as close as the lens will let me focus, which gives me a 1:1 ratio, the ƒ-number gets more extensive due to the lens extending and getting further from the sensor.

Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 1800, ƒ/1.4, 1/200

This photo is as close as I can focus the Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art lens [11.81″] of the same Christmas ornament.

Nikon D750, Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D, ISO 7200, ƒ/4.8, 1/200

Here is another Christmas ornament for comparison.

Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 900, ƒ/1.4, 1/200

Notice how much Charlie Brown’s sister Sally is out of focus at ƒ/4.8 vs. ƒ/1.4 in the two photos. The depth-of-field is even more shallow in the closer photo. How close you are to the subject has as much impact on depth-of-field as your aperture.

Nikon D750, Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D, ISO 12800, ƒ/4.8, 1/200

In this Citadel Christmas ornament, you can see how shallow the depth-of-field is at ƒ/4.8 compared to the photo with the Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 below.

Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 1250, ƒ/1.4, 1/200

Now just to let you see how your distance impacts the depth-of-field here, I just backed up a hair in the lower photo of the ornament with the Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D.

Nikon D750, Micro‑Nikkor Macro 60mm f/2.8 D, ISO 9000, ƒ/4, 1/200

Since I backed up, the aperture opened up a little, so you would think the depth-of-field would shrink, but the opposite happened. Again this is due to the distance to the subject.

Do you want silky smooth BOKEH? GET CLOSER!!!

Christmas lights now easier with the Nikon D750

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 12800, ƒ/4, 1/160

Last night we decided to drive around our community to see the Christmas light decorations.

The Nikon D750’s Highlight-weighted metering mode nailed the exposures. I didn’t have to adjust the EV [Exposure Value].

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 12800, ƒ/4.5, 1/80

I shot everything in RAW and then opened them in Lightroom. Minor adjustments were done more for the look and feel than exposure adjustments.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 12800, ƒ/4.5, 1/80

Now, if you shoot these scenes with most cameras that don’t have the Highlight-weighted metering mode, you will have to dial down the EV, or you will not have any details in the highlights. You could have shot them in RAW and still not had recoverable details in those highlights.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 12800, ƒ/4.5, 1/125

A bonus last night was seeing the Coca-Cola Santa Claus. My grandmother had one of these on the front porch every year that we went home for the holidays.

Certain types of lights helped trigger good memories for me as we drove around. Lucky for me, the Nikon D750 let me enjoy and have memories rather than spending all my time trying to get the correct exposure.

I hope all the new Nikon cameras will continue to have the Highlight-weighted metering mode in the future.

Location Lighting Tip – Arrive Early


I had a major executive headshot the other day. We were to shoot in four locations with multiple outfits.

All the locations were onsite at the corporate headquarters. Thus I had to set up all the lighting on site.

I may have left some things regarding my lighting gear, but everything I owned came with me.

I arrived several hours ahead of the time the executive was to show up.

I set up each shot and had my assistant stand in the place of the executive.

These are just a few of the many test shots I took. I am not posing as my assistant for the best photo, I wanted to see how the light looked and the compositions with the lenses I would be using.

Here is a quick walk-through for each location:

  1. Composition first – I want to test before I set up any lights on the lens for a shot. I want to ensure the background is broad enough behind the subject to work. This searching for the angle might require me to move back and forth and move the subject back and forth between the background and the camera.
  2. Custom White Balance & Test Shot with Available light – You would be surprised how often you don’t need to do a thing but click the shutter, and everything looks great.
  3. Test for aperture – how much depth-of-field do I need? I can shoot pretty wide open with one person, but if you start doing group photos, you need more room to work.
  4. Review the image for the four essential lights and evaluate which ones may need help.
    1. Main/Key
    2. Rim Lighting
    3. Background Light
    4. Fill Light
  5. Going one light at a time, I will add I shoot a test shot and then make adjustments until I get the desired look.
  6. Repeat until all four light values and color temperature is all set for the look I am trying to achieve.
  7. Pull the images on my laptop whenever possible to see the best picture. Unfortunately, the LCD on the back of a camera doesn’t do justice to the fine-tuning evaluation of images.

Problems I often encounter

  • Lens Perspective and Location – sometimes, the only way to get a background, like a company logo on a wall, into a shot has me shooting with a super wide angle that isn’t flattering to the subject. Better to have test shots to show a client to steer them to another location. Sometimes you cannot back up enough to do the room to make it work.
  • Lighting gear gremlins – I have had some strange things happen through the years.
    • Plugged lights into the walls in a classroom, and suddenly, they just started flashing. When they wired the room, the polarity wasn’t correct and caused the strobes all to flicker if I unplugged them from one side or the other of the room; no problem—I fixed it with extension cords.
    • I had a transformer in a light blow once, and smoke came out of the light.
  • Radio Remote Triggers not working – Check the batteries. Change channels to get a better signal.
  • Lens Failure – I had oil in the lens get so hot from sitting in a car that it got all over the aperture and stuck wide open. So I had to use another lens.
  • Flash damaged by airlines – This happened when I flew to Chicago. I had not to use that flash and adjust accordingly. Luckily I had more than just one flash.
Many other problems have occurred throughout my career. The point is simple–Arrive Early.
If you run through all the scenarios before the client arrives, the odds are now in your favor. But, on the other hand, coming just in time for a shoot and going with the flow can make you look bad in front of the client.

Getting Good Skin Tones Shooting Basketball

Nikon D3, Sigma 120-300 mm f/2.8 DG EX APO IF HSM, ISO 400, ƒ/7.1, 1/200

Using strobes is the best way to shoot the basketball and get the best skin tones. I have four Alienbee B1600s on a catwalk lighting the basketball court.

Depending on the room’s colors, the color can shift and give you a color shift even with the studio strobes. The reason is the light is bouncing off those colored walls and ceilings. Even the crowd’s clothing can affect the color temperature.

There are a couple of ways to get a color measurement of the light. One way is using the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport system. Then, after I pull the RAW photo into Lightroom, I just click on the eye dropper tool and put it on the grey square I pointed to in the picture.

Walk onto the court, hold the card where the players will be, and then take a photo.

As long as you shoot RAW, you will get the best colors because you can tweak this later in the post-production of PhotoShop or Lightroom, for example.

So when the play is going quick and correct in front of you, just take the photo.

While strobes will give you the best color, as long as you are shooting RAW and taking these pictures of the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, you can dial in and get the best color with the existing light.

My first preference is the ExpoDisc, but the cool thing with the ColorChecker is you now have more colors for comparison. You will be able to see under some lighting conditions that even after you click on the 18% grey square, you may not be able to get an actual purple color, and since that is on the card, you will see that it is the best you can get.

Think Rim Light or Back Lighting

Nikon D750, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

The backlight also called a rim, hair, or shoulder light, shines on the subject from behind, often to one side or the other. It gives the subject a rim of light, separating the subject from the background and highlighting contours.

Not having this light, you can see the difference here in this second photo, where the lighting crew forgot to turn on the backlight.

Nikon D750, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 4500, ƒ/2.8, 1/80

In one of my master’s classes I took at the Maine Photography Workshop; the instructor always started first with their backlight to create the separation in all his photos. This technique was crucial when he had mixed lighting.

Nikon D750, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 10000, ƒ/5.6, 1/250

While in theater, you can see it because often there is a black background; using a backlight helps create depth in your photos. In addition, it helps make those layers from front to back in photographs.

Nikon D750, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM,  ISO 360, ƒ/2.8, 1/80

In theater and most photography, a 3 – point lighting setup is relatively standard.

The backlight can be on the side or directly behind the subject. It is different from a kicker light that catches the sides of the face, for example, in a photo.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/60 – 2 Alienbees B1600s for main light

The sun is the backlight in this photo. The Alienbees studio strobes are the primary or critical light to the camera’s right. The open sky is the fill light.

If you want to create depth, layers, and separation of your subjects from the background, then be sure and use a backlight.

I suggest that is the first light you consider adding to any scene.

Shooting theater with Nikon D750 or D810 just got easier

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 1600, ƒ/4, 1/80, 0 EV
You might get more out of your camera if you read the manual. But unfortunately, I didn’t read everything in the manual about my Nikon D750 and only stumbled across the tip about the Highlight-Weighted Metering Mode.

Highlight-weighted metering is a new metering mode that is offered in select Nikon DSLR cameras including the D810 and D750, in which the camera meters the highlights to ensure that they are properly exposed and not blown out or overexposed. Use highlight-weighted metering to meter highlights when your subject is in motion, and to meter subjects lit by spotlights or colored lighting.

Highlight-weighted metering is the go-to choice when you’re photographing a spot lit bride in her wedding dress, a dancer or singer on stage, or whenever you’re faced with uneven lighting and a background that is much darker than the subject.

To select highlight-weighted metering, press the metering button on the far left dial on the camera body, and while holding it down, rotate the main command dial until the highlight weighted metering icon is displayed.

Before I used this mode, I often used spot metering, which required me to use a single square that I moved around until it was on the actor’s face. Very hard to do when they are moving around the scene.

The other way, I compensated by using the EV in the matrix metering mode.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 11400, ƒ/4, 1/250, -2.7 EV

So this same play with similar lighting, I compensated by -2.7 EV to do what is automatically done with the Highlight-Weighted Metering Mode.

Nikon D750, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM,  ISO 1600, ƒ/2.8, 1/80, -0.7 EV

I noticed a little white face on the LCD for this scene that I shot using the Highlight-Weighted Metering Mode and dialed a -0.7 EV, which I probably didn’t need to do. There was enough detail without having to underexpose it more.

Nikon D750, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 9000, ƒ/5.6, 1/250, -3.0 EV

Earlier performance, I shot it with -3.0 EV.

Custom White Balance and proper exposure are essential to shooting theater and having excellent technical images. However, getting the exposure in the highlights proper is extremely difficult when often majority of the frame is usually black in theater productions.

You want the exposure to have some details in the highlights. If you underexpose just a little too much, then the image becomes very flat, and even in post-production, you will struggle to match the dynamic range had you exposed it perfectly.

If you slightly overexpose, you cannot put detail back into the image. With theater, this often means over-exposure will wash out the people’s faces.

I think Nikon is the way to go when shooting these tricky situations like theater. The camera does all the thinking I used to do to get technically sound images.

Use Light to help in compositions with Deep Depth-of-Field

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 3200, ƒ/10, 1/250–off-camera Nikon SB-900 fired with Pocketwizard TTL system.
When photographing in this plant, I needed to see the background to give context to where the employee is working. For this reason, I am shooting with an aperture of ƒ/10. I also wanted your eye to go to the worker predominately and not just wonder; therefore, I used the off-camera flash to hit the worker.
The flash is zoomed to 200mm to give me more of a spotlight on the worker.
Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 5600, ƒ/5, 1/250
You might prefer the photo without the flash. But how would you know without a comparison? Flash is key to keeping and getting clients. Clients love options even if they don’t need but one photo.
Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 3200, ƒ/8, 1/20–off-camera Nikon SB-900 fired with Pocketwizard TTL system.
Had I not used the flash in this situation, your eye would have gone to the background more than to the worker.


  • Use Deep Depth-of-field to bring in the context around a subject
  • Keep the subject close to the camera to help with composition and communication
  • Use light to help direct the viewer because the deep depth-of-field can compete with the subject
  • Give client options – Shoot situations with and without lights, for example
Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 3200, ƒ/7.1, 1/80–off-camera Nikon SB-900 fired with Pocketwizard TTL system

Deep Depth of Field

Nikon D2X, Sigma 15-30mm, ISO 100, ƒ/14, 1/15
By looking around the industry, you would think that everyone is shooting wide open at ƒ/1.4. However, some places like Country Living Magazine want just the opposite for their viewers.
Why would someone want everything sharp from front to back in a photo?
Many people are looking for decorating ideas and want to see the details. The other thing that a deep depth of field does for the viewer is put them into the space. They can now let their eye roam from front to back in the photo and all around.

A deep depth of field pulls the audience into a scene more than a shallow depth of field. The shallow depth of field helps you isolate a subject within the frame, and the profound depth of field does the opposite and gives more context to the subject within the frame.

When Country Living hires you, they give precise instructions for the greatest depth of field possible in all the photos.

Here are some more photos from that shoot.

Importance of Practicing Before the Assignment

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000
This past weekend I watched a lot of football getting ready for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl that I will be shooting on December 31st.
The game continues to evolve and each team has it’s own unique characteristics. This year I will be photographing Houston vs FSU.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1000
I started this season of football at the Georgia Dome shooting the Chick-fil-A Kickoff between Auburn and Louisville. 
While once you master a skill you don’t ever really lose it you do become rusty if you do not keep those skills up.
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/400
Two weeks before the Kickoff game I was out practicing at my daughter’s high school shooting the Roswell HS Hornets. By the way Roswell plays this Saturday in the the state championship game Class AAAAAA at the Georgia Dome facing defending champion Colquitt County.  
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 4000, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000
The week after the Roswell game and week before the Kickoff I went to another local High School game at Blessed Trinity. Again I was just trying to put oil on those skills and getting myself lubricated for the game.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000
Then just a couple weeks ago the weekend before Thanksgiving I flew to Richmond, Virginia and covered the Richmond Spiders. My wife went there and they had their 125th meeting between William Mary and them that weekend. Many of the past coaches and players came to the game. My wife worked in the sports information office through college and also after graduating, so many of these were her friends.
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000
I was able to practice not only getting peak action, but to incorporate signage into the photos. I must do this when shooting for corporations that sponsor these games. They want to see that their sponsorship was clear to those who saw the game.
Why Practice?
  • One reason practice our craft is so that we are not subject to living the day out of haste but rather out of calm. 
  • Camera Setting for Auto Focus – My camera has three categories for auto focus: 1) AF-C Priority Selection, 2) AF-Area Mode, & Focus Tracking with lock-on. You need to test out those settings and get the camera set for the best setup for the sport you are shooting.
  • Lens choices – Just renting or buying a lens without understanding how it factors into the coverage can be a huge mistake. 
  • Rules – You cannot just go wherever you want on a field during a game. These restrictions can impact your lens choices and impact where you shoot from during a game.
  • 1/10 of a second isn’t all that fast when it comes to stopping action. Even 1/500 isn’t as great as 1/2000 or 1/4000 for freezing that action. Freezing the action also improves your sharpness in photos.
  • Choosing the right aperture – while you may want to blur the background to get really smooth BOKEH if you are shooting for a corporate sponsor this may not be a good idea. Sometimes you need more depth-of-field to bring in the background. What apertures work best and how will you need to adjust to make this work?
Over time I realized that I needed to create settings profiles on my camera because it was taking a long time to set the camera up for sports. I ended up creating custom profile settings on the camera for: 1) Normal Shooting, 2) Video, 3) Studio Strobes & 4) Sports. 
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 560, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000
No matter what type of photography you are doing take the time and practice before the assignment. If you do portraits then have someone model for you while you check out a location or check your lighting. 

APP Tip for tracking business mileage for IRS Taxes

When photography is your business then you need to be tracking your mileage and vehicle expenses for tax purposes.

Why is mileage log important to me?

The IRS also requires you to keep detailed records. IRS Publication 463 Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses Table 5-1 “How To Prove Certain Business Expenses” states

“For car expenses, the cost of the car and any improvements, the date you started using it for business, the mileage for each business use, and the total miles for the year.”

For the past 30+ years I have tracked all my mileage and expenses by hand.

This week I just started trying a new system. If you have a smartphone this is really cool and easy way to track your mileage. I recommend you checking out TripLog for use with your Android Device or iPhone.

TipLog Highlights

  • The most popular GPS mileage tracking app with over 300,000 downloads
  • The only app that AUTO STARTS when connected to power or Bluetooth devices
  • The only mileage tracking app that reads a vehicle’s odometer from OBD-II devices
  • Sync and merge data to TripLog Web from multiple devices with Fleet Management
  • The most comprehensive reports compliant to IRS TAX returns

Click on image to see larger

Besides downloading the APP I also bought the OBD-II device recommended by TripLog.

BAFX Bluetooth
OBD2 scan tool 


This cost $23.99 from Amazon. Had it the following day after I ordered it. The thing it does is syne the odometer. Side benefit it also has capability to tell you about your car. Read & Clear diagnostic trouble codes for the check engine light, both generic & manufacturer specific codes. Get REAL-TIME sensor information right on your phone! EOT, RPM, Speed, DPF Temp, Balance Rates, O2 Readings & so MUCH more! Even pre-test for emissions testing! Get you 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 & 1 Mile times right on your phone!

You can have the APP show up three different ways on your phone. Just start button, larger 2×2 with Odometer showing, start button, type of mileage and the click to the APP.

I like the one on the bottom in the photo above. Instead of Mileage Today I have it set to show my Odometer.

It is very customizable for your taste.

You can set a default category for your trips. You can also assign a category to a specific place. So if you go to the bank on a regular basis for business then you can set that as a default for that location. If you go to your doctor you can then assign that to be tracked as medical.

Really is a time saver when you are doing your taxes later.

Generate HTML and CSV (spreadsheet) reports from the app

Open TripLog > Reports tab > Email Reports button > follow the instructions > send reports through email.

You can open both CSV and HTML files in Excel.

This is the web interface. You can do a lot more with a paid subscription of $10, $25 or $45 a year. The $25 a year is what I will be doing. You can use all the functions for 30 days for free before choosing a plan.

You can generate reports right from your phone and email them.


While you will spend sometime to set this up and understand all that it can do for you, once you have done this then the APP can do much of the tracking automatically. I am just tapping start and stop for trips at the moment.

I am getting used to the APP and how it works with my Toyota Sienna this December before I totally switch over to this to track all my expenses with the vehicle for TAX year 2016.

Do your photos have Gibberish in them?

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 8000, ƒ/4, 1/100
How would this photo look as a sentence?

asdfaggsgggTEENAGE GIRLS, YOUNG MANadsfgalgalcln

What is all that gibberish around the subjects in the photo? 
All the area marked with green is that really needed? Did I compose the photo in such a way that it is a sentence rather than just a noun with gibberish around it?
Posed photos of people looking straight into the camera for the most part are not anything but a noun without a verb. Sure there are some exceptions, but many people use this same composition no matter what they are shooting. Just put the subject in the center and click.
Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/50
While here the people on the sides kind of balance the photo they really are more of a distraction than helping.
Nikon D4, Sigma 1.4X, Sigma 120-300 mm f/2.8 DG EX APO IF HSM, ISO 8000, ƒ/4.5, 1/2000
Here the edges cannot come in and crop much more without eliminating some of the sentence.
The ball is on the far right/top and the referees’ hand on the left  and not to crop out the foot and show how the athlete is flying I kept it in at the bottom. Notice the wide receiver also has room to go once he catches the ball. 
Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/60
While I could have moved the frame slightly to the right you can see here that I am using the bands name on banners to help compose the photo.
This helps to create leading lines as well and create depth into the photograph.
Here is a great rule to use for your compositions. 
First and foremost eliminate anything you can from the frame that doesn’t help compliment the subject. Think of it like a sentence. Do you have a noun, verb and maybe some descriptors?
Second decide on where to place the subject into the frame.
Third is there a way to create depth into the photograph. This helps pull the audience into the photo.
These three things are just what you can do by moving your camera around in the subject and framing in a way to create impact and help the photo move from a noun with gibberish to a sentence.
Another thing that can greatly improve all photos is the lighting. Sometimes adding light to a situation can help guide the audience as well if not better than using leading lines and S-curves.
But before taking on lighting, always first learn to just compose using the frame of the camera.
How do you know if you are doing a good job of framing your subjects. While looking at your photos on your computer or even on the LCD look around the edges. Do you see things other than the subject that you don’t need? A good way to think of this while shooting is identify your subject and then look at everything but the subject in the frame–can it be eliminated or do I keep it?
Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 8000, ƒ/5 1/100
Remember to make the edges of the photo count as much as the subject you are focused on to make your photos stronger.
Nikon D2XS, Sigma 18-50mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/125
Take your time to compose. Once you have your composition then let the moment happen just like you do after you sit down to watch a play on broadway. The frame is the whole stage. Wait for the actors to move and hit those peak moments.
Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/420