I use photographic references for my paintings. While there are always interesting elements that draw me to the photos initially, the compositions are not always strong, and often need some adjustment.
One tool to help clarify the elements within a composition is the use of a Notan drawing. Notan is a Japanese word that means “light-dark balance.” A notan reduces a scene to the basic black and white shapes and patterns that serve as the foundation of a composition. Notan recognizes not only the balance of positive and negative space, but also the relationship of a specific shape to its background. It can also help eliminate extraneous elements in a photo, more easily simplifying a composition.
John Carlson refers to "decorative composition", meaning the arrangement of value-masses into a design, almost as a poster designer would proceed.
The notan below is of the original photograph. After adjusting the balance, unity, movement, proportion, and emphasis–"BUMPE"– I arrived at a much better composition, indicated by the notan in the middle. The finished painting is on the right.
The first thing that the viewer of your artwork sees is the pattern of light, middle and dark values. If you get that right, they will look more closely at the colors and the detail.