When I first started taking photographs, I would always just point at my subject and shoot away as you don't generally pay too much attention to the background or the things around your subject. Over time I would learn from professional photographers to be more mindful of how I compose my photos.
To keep this blog short and sweet I will summarize my experience as much as possible and provide a few links to some articles which I feel are well written and easy to understand.
1. Think about what you are trying to say with your photo. Is the subject all that matters in this shot? Is the background relevant? Are there other elements around the subject which could enhance your message in this photo?
Example: You are on holiday in India, you see a guru and want to compose a photograph. You want to show the peacefulness of the guru in the chaos that surrounds him. Depending on what lens you have, you may have to take a step back to include the environment into your photo.
TIP: You will also want to make sure your depth of field is not too shallow so that your audience can see his surroundings clearly. By doing so you are providing your audience more context for the subject and the photo now has more story as opposed to a close up shot of just the guru. It all goes back to what you are trying to say with your photo.
The above image of the participants in the Summer festival in Japan has one focal subject which is the guy in the middle looking at the camera smiling. I chose to step back and include his associates to give the audience a better understanding of what he was doing.
This image was taken in Sri Lanka along the coast in Colombo. If I had shot the photo at a closer range or zoomed in closer, you would not be able to see that this was a slum next to the rail roads.
2. Moving around to clear up the background of your subject.More often than not you will find that your subject is standing in front of something or has something that could distract the audiences focal point. It is crucial to try position yourself in a way so that there are no obstructions to your subject.
Example: You are trying to take a photo of your dog, instead of just taking photos where ever your dog maybe try to move to a space where there are no bright lights, big objects, or brightly colored items as all those things can take the focal point away from your subject. TIP: When shooting portraiture outside, squatting down a little will help elevate your subject in the photo instead of shooting at eye level where there are always something in the background. It also gives the audience a different perspective as we are used to seeing things at eye level.
As for this shot, I moved myself to a position where there was a clean background to the chef.
3. Finding symmetry in your composition. When composing an image, you need to be aware of the surroundings to your subject, there are always leading lines, lamp posts, horizons and all sorts of things that you could use to make the photo look more appealing by applying symmetry.
Example: You are shooting a game of volley ball on the beach and there is a palm tree in the background. You can move to a position where the tree is dead centre of the photo, or to a 3/4 position or squat down and show the whole tree in the background of your shot.
These are my personally tips, there are many other good websites that talk about composition with topics like the golden ratio or the rule of thirds etc so I will just provide links to those websites. I have personally read through these sites and recommend a quick read.