Defining Composition in Photography & How to Learn It
Today, I will attempt to define composition in photography and the most effective way to learn and master it.
Have you ever wondered what transforms a photograph into a work of art? There are different aspects of a photograph, but unarguably, the composition allows the photographer to make a statement with his image.
To me, composition is one of the most difficult aspects of photography, as it cannot simply be taught. Learning the perfect way to compose an image is an ongoing journey for the photographer that may even take a lifetime.
Composition is a term that is used in all genres of art. It involves the organization of the elements in a work of art, be it a painting or a piece of music. If your artwork is well-composed, its viewer or listener can grasp its intended message and feel the emotion you wanted to convey with it. There are many established rules of composition, but the artist is free to break or transform them to express his idea in the best way possible.
Table of Contents
What is Composition in Photography?
Composition in photography can be defined as positioning and arranging the objects in the frame in such a way that the viewer’s eye is automatically drawn to the most interesting or significant area of the capture .
In landscape photography, we usually have the time to carefully compose our image before shooting since we work with immobile objects or slowly moving (such as clouds or the sun).
On the other hand, in street photography or photojournalism, composing is done in a matter of seconds. To reach this point, a photographer needs a combination of knowledge, practice, and a bit of creative courage.
Composition Defines Your Style
The photographic process has become increasingly automated, but composition is still something your camera can’t choose for you. That’s why I believe it’s the single most important aspect of a photograph.
Even a perfectly exposed and sharp image taken with a professional camera can “tell us nothing” if it’s not composed in an interesting or meaningful way. In fact, if composed well, your image may as well be blurred or underexposed. As long as these aspects contribute to your idea, they are perfectly acceptable and might even become the emblem of your distinctive style.
How do I master composition in photography?
Now that we understand the importance of composition in photography, the next step is to begin learning it.
As I have mentioned many times before, I truly believe that composition is one of the most difficult aspects of photography since it is hard to teach and often takes a long time to learn. Why? Its complexity comes from its subjective nature. In most cases, there is no right or wrong, and everything is open for interpretation.
What I also notice about composition is that there is no “AHA” moment . Very often, when you are learning something complex, after tackling it for some time, you just get it—in a single moment, everything becomes clear. With composition in photography, it is always a gradual process. Over time, you apply more complex concepts to your compositions, but it is always a learning process.
Here are the simple steps to start learning composition:
a. Analyze work of art
The first thing I’d advise every starting photographer is to look at a lot of art. Not just photography but, if possible, every other type of visual art. Start out with the classics but pay attention to what your contemporaries do as well.
Related : Composition – Repetition, Pattern & Rhythm
Analyze the images that strike you the most. What makes them so powerful? The point of view? The positioning of the main object of interest? Or the use of geometric lines perhaps?
b. Do not be afraid to imitate
Then go out and try to reproduce the things you liked the most in your own photographs. Don’t worry; it’s perfectly okay to imitate your favorite photographers in the beginning. Everyone does it.
c. Learn rules of composition
Try to master the classical rules of composition at first – the rule of thirds , for example. It’s important to know these rules before you begin to break them to create more interesting or striking images.
d. Practice, practice, and practice…
As with everything, practice is key. Shoot whenever possible. Don’t just shoot objects that are obviously interesting. Shoot boring objects as well. With an interesting composition, even a photograph of a fork can turn into a work of art.
e. Share your work and get feedback
And then, of course, show your work and ask for feedback. In the digital world of today, this is easier than ever. Join photography forums or dedicated Facebook groups and ask the other members to evaluate your photographs. Don’t be afraid of criticism – you need it in order to improve your technique.
Composition and Landscape Photography
Many rules and guidelines of composition can help you accelerate and make more sense of the whole process.
You have probably come across various tutorials that list the rules of composition, such as the golden triangles and spirals, a rule of odds, balance, leading lines, patterns, color contrast, symmetry , filling the frame, framing, creating depth, and so on.
As a beginner, reading such a long list of rules often feels like your head is about to explode. You do not know where or how to start. When you try to randomly use the rules of composition, it rarely works.
I want to bring a bit of structure to the process of learning composition by applying my favorite 20-80 rule here. The rule states that in any process, 20% of forces or work is responsible for 80% of the results. The goal of any learning process is to identify and tackle that 20% first.
First of all, I believe that landscapes are the best subjects to start learning photography composition. Why? Because you have more control over the elements of the scene compared to street photography, wildlife, or even family photography.
There are two ways of addressing composition :
- The first way is when you frame the shot.
- The second is when you crop the photo during the editing process.
I am sure you have heard many times before that “ you have to get everything right in the camera .” I completely agree with this statement, but in reality, this goal is not always possible to achieve. For me, it is always a two-step process. I try to get the best-framed shot possible, but I always have the option to tweak or adjust it later in Lightroom.
When you start learning composition, it is very difficult to immediately get it right in the camera. You are overwhelmed by other aspects you have to address, like exposure, focus, and additional camera settings that distract you from addressing the overall composition.
Do not be afraid or embarrassed when this occurs. Try to get the composition right when you crop your photos during editing. I believe the best way to start learning the proper framing and composition is in Lightroom. You can take your time and experiment in the comfort of your own home. You can see what does and does not work by trying different versions of the same photo. Then, you can apply this knowledge the next time you take photos.
Today, I am only going to list three concepts of composition that will drastically change your photography.
Rule #1 – Level Your Horizon
It seems like such a simple and obvious rule, but nothing ruins the composition of a landscape more than a crooked horizon. This is something that is imprinted in our brain and in our subconscious—that the horizon has to be horizontal. When we see a photo with a horizon line that is even slightly crooked, our brain simply refuses to accept it.
However, it is not always possible to get your horizon straight when you are shooting, but you can fix it later in Lightroom. Lightroom even has an AUTO function that adjusts the horizon for you. In 90% of cases, it does an amazing job. If it does not work, it only takes seconds to adjust it manually.
But, we all know that rules are meant to be broken. So, if you intentionally want to make the horizon crooked, make sure that it is obvious that it was done intentionally.
Rule #2 – Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is the fundamental concept of composition in photography. To use the Rule of Thirds, you mentally or visually divide the scene into nine equal parts and place the subject of your photo on one of the intersecting points or lines.
Using the Rule of Thirds, you, as an artist, help a viewer navigate the scene by giving visual cues of where to start and where to go from there. You help a viewer identify the most important parts of the scene.
For example, by placing the horizon on the top line of the Rule of Thirds Grid, you tell the viewer that, in this particular composition, the land is more important than the sky, and it is where they should focus their attention.
The Rule of Thirds is the best way to start learning composition in photography. Personally, I prefer to use a variation of the Rule of Thirds—the Golden Ratio Grid. The Rule of Thirds is the simplified version of the Golden Ratio, which originates in the concept of the Fibonacci Spiral. Since using the Fibonacci Spiral can be overwhelming, it is much easier to look at it as a Phi Grid or the Golden Ratio Grid.
The difference between the Rule of Thirds Grid and the Golden Ratio Grid is very subtle, but I find that the Golden Ratio Grid helps me create more effective compositions.
You can use either since the concept stays the same: align the most important objects of your scene along the lines and intersecting points of the grid, resulting in a more meaningful composition.
Now for some practical steps on how to use the grid.
Almost every camera on the market has an option to use visual guides; all you have to do is activate it. On Sony mirrorless cameras, it is called the Visual Grid, and by activating it, you will have the Rule of Thirds Grid overlaid on the camera’s LCD and EVF. I have it enabled at all times as it helps me with framing when I am shooting.
In Lightroom, you have many more Visual Grid options to help you improve the composition of your image when cropping the photo.
Rule #3 – Simplicity
This is the best way to start approaching composition—try to simplify it as much as possible. Identify the most important subject or part of the scene (the focal point) and try to isolate it by excluding the clutter around it, so the viewer has no other choice but to concentrate all his attention on it.
The composition below is very simple; it has only three elements: the sky, the field, and the lighthouse. To simplify it, I erased unnecessary distractions like electric poles and wires next to the lighthouse.
Ideally, you want to use all three rules I listed above in the same composition. Make sure the horizon is straight, identify the main subject of your composition, align it along the grid, and ensure the scene is not cluttered with unimportant objects (see shot below).
If you learn and master the three rules of composition outlined here, you will be able to produce pleasing and meaningful compositions and will be ready to apply more complex artistic concepts to your photography.
Practical Steps for Learning Composition in Photography
Today, I’d like to share with you an unconventional way that you can accelerate your understanding of composition using Lightroom. Not only will you find that Lightroom can help build your knowledge of composition, but you’ll discover it can also help you gain confidence in your photography.
Because of my work on PhotoTraces.com, I use multiple channels to publish my photographs, starting with my blog. Once my images are posted on the website, I then publish them on popular social media sites such as Facebook, G+, Pinterest, and Instagram. I also create an additional version for print.
By now, you are probably wondering: “Does he realize that publishing sites like Facebook, Instagram, and even blogs have their standard image sizing ?” Yes! If my original photograph has a landscape orientation with an aspect ratio of 3 x 2, posting to Instagram requires a 1 x 1 square, while Pinterest requires a vertical image. For print, I may decide I want a panoramic version plus a smaller 4×6 photo .
While creating multiple versions of a photo to ensure consistent and meaningful composition does take time, the process is incredibly valuable to better master and understand the importance of composition in photography.
Real Life Scenario Exercise
During a trip to Hawaii’s O’ahu Island, I took this photo just after sunrise and knew almost immediately that the scene had great potential as a feature on my blog and perhaps even in my portfolio.
Knowing that a regular landscape composition is 3 x 2, I purposefully took the shot wider in order to leave myself plenty of room and freedom to create a number of different versions for publishing across multiple channels. Because my Sony a6000 has a 24 Mpx sensor, I have more than enough pixels to trim and even aggressively crop my photographs during post-processing.
With this image, I started with my Landscape Collection and applied one of my favorite presets from Travel Pro Kit Collection , Escalante.
Once I was satisfied with how the image looked, I then focused on composition by setting the Crop Tool’s overlay options to Golden Ratio . While Thirds is the most popular option among photographers, I have personally found consistent success in creating more balanced compositions using the Golden Ratio.
To save time, you can even scroll through the various overlay options by hitting the “O” on your keyboard until you find the overlay you want to use.
After setting the overlay to Golden Ratio, I locked the aspect ratio at 2 x 3.
Then, I created my first version of the photograph by tightening the composition.
Once satisfied, I used Lightroom’s Snapshot function to save the image using the name “3 x 2.”
Moving to the next version and so forth, I ultimately end up with six different snapshots in my Snapshot Panel.
It’s important to note that you can use Lightroom’s Virtual Copy function as an alternative to Snapshot ; however, I find that Snapshot keeps Lightroom much more organized, which is a key component in ensuring efficiency during post-processing.
With my snapshots finished, I reviewed each individual version to ensure the results were what I wanted. Then, I began publishing.
Composition in Photography | Conclusion
Although there are many articles and tutorials on mastering composition in photography, regular practice is the best and only way to learn. Start by incorporating the exercise above into your regular routine by creating an Instagram version and a Pinterest version for each photo you edit.
Try to employ three concepts of composition we learned earlier: Straight Horizon , Rule of Thirds, and Simplicity . Once you get into the habit, I promise you’ll see a world of difference in your understanding and mastery of photography composition.
Articles Related to “Defining Composition in Photography & How to Learn It“
The basics of photography composition.
Get a viewer’s attention with tried-and-true composition techniques that show you where to place your photo’s main subject.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is photo composition?
Rules of composition
Getting composition right
Break your image into quadrants, aiming to balance elements in the photo using the rule of thirds as a guide. Use negative space strategically, boost saturation to pull visual weight, and practice identifying which elements in a photo throw it off balance. That way, you can easily spot and fix them next time.
Use the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds is a way of dividing frames for optimal composition. It involves evenly dividing the frame between two equally spaced horizontal and vertical gridlines, creating a three-by-three grid. In order to create balance and flow within the image, compositional elements should be placed where these lines of the grid intersect or segment your image. This tends to allow for more interesting images than simply centering a subject. “You want to move your eye around that image and find things with that trio,” says Long. A photo with an interesting element in only one section likely won’t be as successful as a photo that’s interesting top-to-bottom and side-to-side.
Balance is related to, but distinct from, symmetry. A balanced image doesn’t necessarily look the same right-to-left or side-to-side. Rather, the various quadrants of the image complement each other in aesthetically pleasing ways. A viewer’s eye will likely scan the picture, looking for a point of interest and something else in dialogue with that point — an obvious subject might be balanced on the other side of the image by negative space. “If you have a really complicated photo with a lot of stuff going on, it can cause us to respond by drawing parallels,” says Long, “which can be kind of invigorating, confusing, and aggravating in a good way.”
Loud or vivid colors often demand attention and disrupt or complicate. “The saturation of certain hues is really going to pull your eye,” says Long. “If I want something to pull more visual weight, increasing its saturation or its luminance can be useful.”
Unbalanced photos can look disorienting or amateurish. “When a photograph is out of balance it provides uneasiness,” says Long. “The majority of the time we like a sense of fluidity with the image.” Things on the left correspond with things on the right, and perhaps they circle around something in the middle. Like having a feel for aesthetics or good intuition about images, recognizing balance comes with practice. “Balance isn’t something you can teach people,” says Long. “You really get a sense of it as you look at things.” The more you work, the more familiar you get with how elements of an image work in concert with each other.
Work with leading lines, focus, and depth of field.
Photography flattens three dimensions into two. In order to preserve a feeling of space and dimensionality, a photographer has to be aware of what’s in a shot and how they’re focusing on it.
Leading lines are visual elements that pull the viewer’s eye toward a subject or focal point. They can be anything — roads running off into the distance, an arm stretched out toward something else, tree branches rising toward the moon — anything that pulls attention toward something else. These lines can give flat surfaces the appearance of depth, dimension, and shape.
Focus and depth of field also add to the illusion of a third dimension within the photo. Shallow depth of field can give the viewer the impression that they’re focused on something immediately in front of them, and it provides a look of depth and scale, even in a flat photo.
Find the right point of view.
If you want to play with composition, move around. Simply changing perspective can mean the difference between a great photo and a conventional one.” All we’re doing is choosing to exclude things or include things,” says Long.
Play with your spacing and distance from your subject. “I move around a lot,” says Rivera. “I get really low or really high. I see what it’s like if I get under my subject or see what it’s like if they move side-to-side.” Get close, get far, and move to find how you want to frame your subject.
Lastly, when you’re composing a shot, keep in mind how the image is ultimately going to be used. “There might be text that goes over an image, or it might be a magazine cover,” says Rivera. Allow for those potential extra elements when you’re lining up the shot, and try to conceptualize them while you look through your viewfinder.
Improve composition with post-production cropping.
If the composition of a photo is a little off, it’s often possible to improve it in post-production with a quick crop. A photo might not frame the subject in an optimal way. But, just by moving the edge of the frame, you can often find a good image within a mediocre one.
When going through old images, try looking at them from a different angle or perspective. “Play with the rotation of the image,” says Rivera. “When you do a crop you can rotate it, flip the image , or put it upside down and maybe see something else.”
Getting composition right.
You need to do more than just follow compositional rules to shoot good photos. It’s possible to follow things like the rule of thirds without intention or to use it without purpose. Understand that the elements of composition aren’t like algorithms or formulas — they help guide a photographer’s decision-making skills, not substitute for them. “Leading lines are great, but hopefully they’re leading me to your subject and not leading me to nowhere,” says Long.
Photography composition rules are the foundation. After you’ve internalized the fundamentals of what goes into a good image, you can break the rules. “Once you have the basics down, you can experiment,” says Rivera. “There are no set rules for how you should shoot anything. That’s the beauty of being an artist. You can make your own rules and your own imagery.”
Good photographers have an eye for subjects and scenes. Composition is a tool they can use to help others see what they see. They collect elements of a wide world and, with their equipment and expertise, organize it pleasingly within a rectangle. This is true for any type of photography, whether it’s portrait photography at a human scale, landscape photography on a grand scale, or macro photography of tiny worlds.
Adam Long , Grace Rivera
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Ultimate Guide to Composition in Photography
What is Composition?
Why is composition important in photography, composition concepts and principles, elements of composition, principles of composition, gestalt principles of composition, tips for finding the right composition.
- #1. Inspiration and Learning to See
- #2. Do Your Research and Plan Your Shoot
- #3. Arrive Early
Selective focus, rules and ratios, reflections and dynamic foreground, repetition of shape, perspective, focused light, natural framing, zoom in (or out), shoot vertical, combine composition techniques, common composition mistakes and how to fix them, problem: sloppy or busy edges, problem: uneven horizon line.
- PROBLEM: Not Making the Subject the Focus of the Frame
PROBLEM: Subject Leaving the Frame
Problem: the scene feels unbalanced.
- PROBLEM: The Scene is Too Busy
- PROBLEM: The Depth of Field isn’t Right
- PROBLEM: The Subject is Too Centred
- PROBLEM: My Foreground is Boring
PROBLEM: My Subject Feels Cramped Within the Frame
- PROBLEM: Camera Settings Keep Bogging Me Down, I Have Trouble Even Getting to Composition
How to Improve Composition in Editing
Converting an image to black and white, other ways to improve your composition skills in photography, step 1. take a workshop or hire a photographer, step 2. look at other photos for inspiration, step 3. be patient, step 4. practice.
Almost all new photographers list getting better at composition as something that they struggle with. That makes a lot of sense and unfortunately, composition is one of the most difficult things to learn. If you think about it, composition is a very personal relationship between the photographer and the subject. Composition is how a photographer puts his or her own spin on a photograph.
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- Discover these 5 Composition Techniques That Will Improve Your Landscape Photography
How do you teach someone “creative vision?” The goal of teaching composition is not to make a bunch of clones of the instructors’ photographic style, but to help people develop their own ways to see the world. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking how I arrived at my own methods of composing images and these are a few tips I think can help anyone improve their compositional skillset.
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Put simply, composition is how the elements of a photo are arranged. A composition can me made up of many different elements, or only a few. It's how the artist puts those things within a frame that help a photograph become more or less interesting to the viewer.
A good photograph will take many different parts and combine them into an aesthetically pleasing whole. Composition is how an artist tells a story within the confines of a single frame.
How many times have you seen a photograph that seemed to be taken in an amazing location with an incredible subject, but the image didn't do much for you? The problem very well might be that the composition was off.
Composition is everything when it comes to a photograph. Oftentimes, the technical side of an image is pretty easy to learn, so the one thing that separates a great image from one that is less interesting is the composition.
Everyone has a camera these days, so how you are able to visually capture something that is also being photographed by the masses right alongside you will help to distinguish your work from other photographers. Hopefully, this will gain you the success or business you seek.
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I would be willing to bet that a large majority of digital photographers don’t know these… and yet each of these principles and elements can be something to look for which will help you to find something interesting to photograph. I’ll address a few of these in more depth below. In addition to being something that can be the primary compositional element of a photograph, each of these can be combined with other compositional elements to make for more aesthetically pleasing images.
When it comes to bringing attention to specific parts of a frame, lines are one of the best ways to do so. What better way than a nice, strong line pointing RIGHT at the subject to catch the viewer's eye?
Leading lines are just that – lines that point you into the frame, towards the subject. In addition to lines that lead in to a composition, you can have multiple lines that converge into the frame, or towards the subject.
When it comes to my lines, I try whenever possible to bring them in from the corners. The corners are neutral and these “leading lines” don’t cut part of the frame the way a hard line from an edge will. Rivers and streams are great ways to incorporate leading lines, movement, and colour into an image. “Converging lines” can be the edges from numerous buildings or trees, or any group of edges pointing towards the middle of the frame from all sides.
- See also: How to Use Leading Lines for Better Compositions in Landscape Photography
Shape and Form
Shape and form are similar elements of design – the main difference being that things with form are three dimensional, having height, width and depth.
Photography is a 3D representation of a scene, so whereas a painting might have more shapes in it, a photograph typically has more forms. The more interesting the form, the more interesting the image. Forms can be geometric like a building or organic, like a walrus or a person.
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Value refers to how light or dark something is in a photograph. It refers to the shades of white, black, and grey.
The beauty of photography is that you can use black and white shades to create powerful images. Oftentimes, photographers who are looking for vibrant colours or other dynamic aspects in a scene will forget to notice how many different tones lie within a potential frame.
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The way you put forms and shapes together occupies space within a frame. This arrangement is the composition and also leaves empty or “negative space” around and between other forms. This negative space can become an interesting compositional element as well.
When you’re looking for a shot, especially in urban areas or with portrait work, not only are the forms within the frame important but the space that isn’t occupied by these forms can be just as poignant. Keep in mind that when using silhouettes, these “forms” can look more like shapes and playing with them to make things look two dimensional can also be a powerful tool in photography composition.
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Part of learning about photography is studying colour. Colour is comprised of three parts: hue, value, and intensity.
Those who use Adobe products will no doubt recognise that the 'hue' is simply the name of the colour (e.g. red, blue, green, etc). The 'intensity' refers to saturation (how bright and pure the colour is), while the 'value' refers to luminosity (how bright or dark the colour is).
There are some basic colour schemes that work well together. They’re practiced daily by artists, graphic designers and other photographers. These simple colour theories can really help when you are looking for compositions that will work. Remember to look at a colour wheel from time to time. Study the different colour theories. Complementary colours, analogous colours... even primary, secondary, and tertiary colour schemes, as well as monochromatic other than black and white.
If you head to color.adobe.com then you will find some really great ways to check different colour schemes. This app will also show you other colours that work well with a dominant colour in your photograph. This might help on the backend as you process an image, when you want to process a certain colour a little warmer or cooler to help fit in with a predetermined aesthetic.
Texture refers to the tactile element of something. In the case of a photograph, there isn't any one tactile feeling. All photos feel the same. As such, the texture refers to the look of how something is perceived to feel, in reality.
If you’re taking a photo of a cactus, there’s a texture there that gives the viewer an idea of what that cactus FEELS like. Compositionally, making texture a big part of a frame can really give the viewer a sense of a place.
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Rhythm creates movement by repeating patterns and shapes throughout the frame of an image in random or highly organised arrangement.
I always refer to balance as a 'teeter-totter'. If you split your composition in to halves (top and bottom or left and right), does it feel like they belong together? Does one side feel like it has too much going on? This doesn’t mean that both sides have to be symmetrical… but if you have an object on one side that attracts the viewer's eye, the other side should have something to keep you interested in the whole image as opposed to just the dominant or larger object.
Unbalanced images can hold the viewer's eye on one side of the frame instead of allowing it to take in and flow through the whole composition.
Proportion refers to the size of objects within a frame as they relate to one another. It can be utilised within a successful composition by exaggerating proportions in one way or another by changing the camera angle.
The photographer can also position the subjects in such a way to make the differences in proportion the focus of the image.
Emphasis refers to how the elements of your composition guide the viewer to an intentional subject within the frame. To do this, the photographer can employ a variety of techniques.
Playing with selective lighting helps to emphasise the subjects being lit. Other ways to emphasise a subject include leading lines and proportion. Even the way that the photographer dresses or groups subjects can place emphasis within a frame.
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Harmony uses colour, texture, line and other aspects of art to point out the similarities of subjects within an image. Harmonious images will often showcase how different objects are all the same, and utilise something that all the objects have in common to do so.
Variety is the opposite of harmony. Not to say that it is chaos, but variety juxtaposes different objects together so that their differences are what brings interest to the photograph and the story being told.
Movement within a composition is the photographer’s ability to imply motion. Obviously, nothing within a still image is actually moving, but by the use of creative shutter speeds, panning or zooming with the camera, you can create an implied feeling of motion.
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Showcasing how things are alike can be a powerful tool within a composition. This can be done by grouping things with likeness together, such as texture, shape, colour, value or size.
The viewer is often looking for a sense of unity within an image, so putting many things together that share common traits can help convey that satisfaction.
Continuity refers to how the shapes and lines within your image work together to lead from one to the other. The end of one shape should lead directly into the next shape or shapes.
The word that I like to use to describe this is ‘Flow’. Essentially, continuity describes how the objects within your composition flow from one position to the next.
Closure is a difficult principle of composition to realise in photography, but the way that a composition is laid out can make the viewer see a more complete picture.
A good example may be when you are photographing a large crowd of people who are mostly all wearing similar attire. Within that group, there may be several people not wearing the same attire… but the perception at first is that the entirety of the group is all the same.
When you put things together within an image, they will appear to be part of a greater whole or group. An example is when you are photographing something using a telephoto lens. In doing so, you are able to compress the scene to make all parts of the frame appear closer in proximity. Two separate mountain ranges can look like they are part of the same mountain range, when in fact there may be hundreds of miles separating them.
Figure / Ground
Figure / Ground refers to the relationship between the main object and everything else in the frame. Typically, these objects may be people, wildlife or a product. Traditionally, the goal of the photographer is to put these subjects in a place where they clearly become the dominant part of an image and stand out from the background.
In portrait, wildlife and product photography, the approach of blurring those lines or camouflaging the separation between figure and ground is often achieved by using depth of field or bokeh. In landscape photography, the approach is quite different, in that most people often seek front-to-back sharpness from the foreground to the background of an image.
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Oh, how we love order. Have you ever seen a composition that had a reflection or a really nice pattern in it, but the photographer cut off a portion of the reflection or didn’t line up the pattern correctly? These type of images are a little unnerving.
When you have scenes that have the potential to be very symmetrically aligned, it’s important to make them line up. If you cannot do this in the field, then giving yourself room to do it in post-processing can work just as well.
If you’re going to go against symmetry, it’s important to go over the top so the viewer knows that you did it on purpose. When the symmetry is off by just a little bit, it can make your composition look lazily constructed.
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#1. Inspiration and Learning to See
Photography may have been your first creative outlet but artistic vision takes time to develop and it doesn’t usually begin right when you pick up a camera.
For me, I was an art major in college, and my exposure to the arts began when I was very little. I was interested in painting and drawing throughout my life. As a result, I was exposed to a variety of different art mediums, artists and their works. None of this was directly related to photography, yet it all helped to shape the way I see. As such, I encourage photographers to look at other forms of art.
Take a painting class at a local gallery, or college. Learn how to create and to be creative with different mediums.Look at classical paintings and try to envision what the environment looked like when the artist created that painting. How would you compose something similar with a camera? How did they use light? Even though the people in the paintings might be centuries old, what ideas can you incorporate from the work into your current photo shoot? What times of day have you seen lighting that is similar? Which locations have you visited that remind you of that particular place?
You can even find inspiration in abstract or impressionist painters as well. Look at the work of painters like Richard Diebenkorn and Jackson Pollack… I bet you can start to see things in nature or man-made subjects that might look similar. What about if you shoot aerial photography with a drone?
I constantly see things that remind me of a certain painting or painter. Once I see these, I am able to start envisioning how I will compose them so that they look like the style of that painting.
My advice is that you look at more artwork outside of photography… it will help you with your compositions.
#2. Do Your Research and Plan Your Shoot
The more I photograph, the more I enjoy the spontaneity of just showing up somewhere and making the most out of whatever shooting situations present themselves. However, there is something to be said for having at least a little idea of what you’re trying to accomplish when you head out.
During a recent trip to Scotland, we set off to photograph a scenic vista that we hadn’t researched very well. What we thought was an easy mile and a half hike ended up taking us 30-45 minutes, with much of it being a steep uphill slog. Needless to say, we missed a nice sunset as we were sweating and heaving somewhere below the summit.
A little more research on my part would’ve allowed me to plan for the appropriate time that it would take to hike to the top and I could have possibly created much better images if I had the time to find the best compositions.
With portrait shoots, it’s important to know what kind of location you will be bringing clients into before you photograph them, so that you'll know where you need to place them to get the perfect shot. The last thing that you want is to be looking for the best spot to shoot when your client is ready to have their picture taken. This can be a waste of time and result in you losing the best light. Planning can help save a lot of preventable headaches later.
#3. Arrive Early
As I mentioned, I’m becoming a fan of “finding” the shot once I arrive somewhere. I love looking for that different angle or unique perspective. For me, the hunt is almost as fun as the final product. Knowing that this is part of how I compose my shots, I NEED to arrive with plenty of time to explore.
Whether you’re shooting a portrait, a social event, wildlife or landscape, having a good idea of current conditions and possibilities will help you to react better when the shooting starts. So always plan to arrive at your destination ahead of time.
- See also: Tips for Planning a Photography Trip to Iceland
If you or I were sharing a scene with Brad Pitt, it would be hard to showcase us with him being on screen too, unless we did something to really put the emphasis on ourselves!
Selective focus is a great way to have something iconic in your frame with something that is less iconic in the background. By putting one subject in focus and having the other blurry, you can place importance on one subject more than the other. This is usually done by experimenting with depth of field and can really help make a composition more concise and interesting.
Needless to say, this technique is great for wildlife and portrait photography. When you have a single point of focus where the image has one main subject and everything else is very subdued, it can guide the viewer's eye straight into your composition.
- See also: Landscape Photography Settings | How to Set the Focus
When you are overwhelmed by a grand scene and there is too much going on, try to ask yourself, “what do I find the MOST interesting here?” Then make the entire image about that.
Keep it simple… show the viewer JUST the thing you want. Not every image has to have a killer foreground with three or four subjects leading into an amazing sky in order to keep your viewer interested.
In photography, there are a lot of “golden” rules and ratios that can be used to help highlight points of interest in your composition. These ratios divide the frame into the key areas by using lines and curves where your eye is naturally more likely to go.
The point of these ratios is to help you to place elements within a composition where the eye of the viewer is most likely to gravitate, as well as to put subjects in angles and positions where they may help to draw the eye around the frame.
Lightroom and Photoshop both have overlays for all of the different ratios that I will mention below, so you can see how your photos line up with them.
Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds uses key intersection points and breaks the scene up into thirds vertically and horizontally. In the grid where these lines intersect are the points where you should try to put your main subjects.
- See also: Rule of Thirds Explained
The golden spiral is another method that people often use to compose a shot. A curve starts from the corners and goes across the upper portion of the frame, spiralling towards the middle and the bottom. The concept is that movement and subjects should all fall on the curve and your most interesting portion of the frame should align closely with the middle of the spiral in the lower quadrant of the frame.
Golden Triangles are yet another composition technique that photographers use to break the scene up and put emphasis on certain areas of the frame. This involves drawing a diagonal line from one corner to the other of the image, and then from that line, two more lines come from the remaining corners to connect them together. Where the shorter lines touch the larger middle line are the areas where the most interesting parts of your composition should be lined up.
Baroque and Sinister Diagonals
If you’re a real art history buff, then you've probably heard about the Baroque and Sinister Diagonals.
Baroque diagonals are lines going from right to left across the corner. The Sinister Diagonal goes from left to right across the corners. It would be simpler to just call it an ‘X’ across the frame, but that’s not as cool.
Shorter lines branch off this ‘X’ to give more points of interest.
Two of my favourite things to look for when composing a shot are reflections and a dynamic foreground. I’ll look for water anywhere to use in an image. Reflections not only capture an additional image of the main subject (and what’s better than one dynamic subject? TWO of them!), but water will also hold any colour from the sky, giving you all kinds of added excitement to an image.
When there isn’t any water, I’ll look for other kinds of dynamic foregrounds, such as old tree stumps, beds of wildflowers, interesting foliage, cracked earth... anything that will fill the foreground within my frame and help me to add interest to the overall scene. What's even better is if the foreground contains lines that will lead towards my subject.
While these types of foreground are associated mostly with landscape photography, with a little creativity, they can be great in urban, wedding and portrait work as well. For portrait and product work, foregrounds don’t have to be as dynamic but take care to eliminate any distractions that may draw attention away from your main subject.
People usually think of a balance between light and dark when they think of contrast. While that’s certainly something useful to have in your pocket when composing an image, think of other ways that things can contrast and look for those as well.
There can be contrast in the form of big and small, old and new, alive and dead, hot and cold, fast and slow. There are so many different ways to tell a story with contrasting elements other than light and dark. Look at your subject, find things that contrast with it and try to use them as a part of your composition.
Patterns and repeated shapes are an amazing way to make interesting photos. The key is to really fit them in the frame well (fill the frame!) and make sure there are other interesting things at play besides the pattern, such as colours, textures and contrast.
Tunnel vision for photographers is very real, especially when there’s something awesome going on. I really try to push my workshop clients to keep moving and not settle for 500 shots of the same composition.
Even though you may have found the perfect angle for your shot, you need to see what other options are around. You can always come back and take that iconic shot again when the lighting changes. In the meantime, experiment by getting higher, getting lower, even laying down! Change the angle of your camera so that you get a different perspective of the scene.
Almost anytime that the sky opens up and gives you wonderful rays of light, an interesting shot is just waiting to be captured. Focused light automatically gives you a point of interest due to the contrast it creates between light and dark areas within a scene.
- See also: How to Take Great Photos in Bad Lighting Conditions
Once you find your subject, you can look for ways to frame that subject within the image. Maybe there are some trees that can bend around the subject, or a hole in a wall or rock that you can use to make an interesting frame. Perhaps you can even utilise parts of a wall or old buildings to create a frame around a subject.
This is different to just filling the frame. This technique requires you to find the most interesting parts of a scene and make the image about that section of the image. Sometimes, powerful images can be made by compressing a scene and zooming in, thus eliminating possible distractions from your composition. On the flip side, sometimes your lens won't give you the ability to incorporate all the best parts of the scene into a single shot. The best image might be made by zooming out and going wider.
- See also: 10 Tips to Master Wide Angle Landscape Photography
When it comes to landscape images in particular, people get very stagnant with shooting horizontally. Remember that you can shoot vertically also, and compose that way too.
Similar to shooting in horizontal format, you can compose using the rules, ratios and techniques that I've outlined above.
Each of the above compositional techniques are great to help you start making images that are more visually appealing, but they can be combined for an even better effect! The more ways that you can draw a viewer's eye into the image and keep it there, the better the image will be.
Give yourself room. When I’m shooting really wide, I’ll often zoom out a little more to give myself a little extra space in case I need to adjust something when I get back to the computer. Don’t get me wrong, I love to fill the frame with interesting subjects, but sometimes we can get so meticulous about filling the frame that we forget to notice something in the edges we need to get rid of.
If you don’t have some space to work with, you might end up having to remove other important parts of the image in order to fix the affected areas during post-processing.
Eleven years ago, I was shooting in Iceland and captured incredible images of the glacier and mountains beneath a beautiful sunset. I used my bubble level. I was stoked.
The problem was that even though the camera was perfectly level, the glaciers were all at pretty intense angles and when I got home later on, the images all felt like they were tilted sharply to the right.
When I straightened them in post processing, they felt better, though the crop was way too tight for most of the compositions that I had so carefully put together. So always look at your images and see if they feel tilted in the camera. You may very well be dealing with an uneven horizon line.
PROBLEM: Not Making the Subject the Focus of the Frame
Many new photographers are afraid to get right in and fill the frame with their subject. Whenever you shoot, you should ask yourself, “what is this image about? What do I like most about where I’m pointing the camera?” Then make the image about that.
Get closer, zoom in. If you’re taking a photo of a bird, the bird should be the main subject of the frame and comprise a majority of the space. Don't be afraid to fill the frame.
Remember with images that have people or wildlife in them, that the viewers eye is always going to follow the gaze or direction the subject is moving. Place your subjects in a way that they are moving into the frame of the image, or looking inwards to the centre of the shot. This will help your viewer's eye move across the frame as opposed to leaving the frame.
Try moving around a few feet left and right. See if a slight change in angle will balance the scene better. Get a little lower to make the foreground larger or try getting a little higher for a different perspective.
Oftentimes, an unbalanced scene is easily fixed with just a little movement. If that doesn’t work, sometimes a simple zoom in or out with your lens will eliminate it.
PROBLEM: The Scene is Too Busy
Sometimes there can be so much going on in a scene that it can feel a little chaotic. To fix this, try a different depth of field or use a bokeh for the background. Really focus on your subject and let the rest of the scene blur.
Look at the distracting elements. Can you move them out? Can you change the angle slightly to eliminate or reduce the distractions? The problem might just be that your composition is too wide, so tighten the frame up a little. Ask yourself what is the main subject of this image and have I made the image about that?
PROBLEM: The Depth of Field isn’t Right
If you’re looking at images and all the parts that you want to be sharp simply aren't, then you may have a depth of field issue. To fix this, you'll need to raise your aperture up a little.
Shooting at f/16 or higher is sometimes needed to get a greater depth of field. In extreme cases, you might need to focus stack and blend the images later on in Photoshop.
Make sure too that you're focusing on the correct spot of a frame. For areas where a great depth of field is needed, focus about a third of the way into the frame for a better result. There are apps too that will help you to know where to focus to get the desired depth of field.
On the other hand, if your image has too many areas in focus and those areas are taking away the power of the subject, you might need to lower your aperture a little for a softer background.
- See also: What is Aperture? An Introduction to Aperture in Photography
PROBLEM: The Subject is Too Centred
First off, just because a subject is centred doesn’t mean that your composition can’t work. It’s just that in a lot of cases, placing your subject in the centre just isn’t as aesthetically pleasing.
Instead, try putting your subject in the upper left of right quadrant, using the rule of thirds overlay that most cameras have built into their view screen. You can now line up the key portions of your subject on those intersection points.
PROBLEM: My Foreground is Boring
An interesting foreground can make or break a composition. Try getting on scene earlier to find the things that will make your foregrounds more interesting, instead of rushing around later on when the lighting is great.
If there is nothing that you can use as your foreground, then it's time to get creative! I know photographers who bring props to shoots. If your fall colour family shoot is lacking in fallen leaves, you can always go gather more and spread them aesthetically throughout the scene.
Also, keep in mind that not all scenes need a foreground, so try simplifying the composition and removing the foreground altogether.
- See also: The Power of Foreground in Landscape Photography of Iceland
Back up, or zoom out. Subjects need some room within the frame to “breathe”. Try to keep from placing your subject too close to an edge.
PROBLEM: Camera Settings Keep Bogging Me Down, I Have Trouble Even Getting to Composition
Slow down. Take a deep breath.
First, I would really recommend doing whatever you need to do to learn how your camera works. Learn how the different shooting modes work and how the camera performs in full manual mode. Find out which is better for your style of shooting and the limitations that particular mode may have.
If you’re spending too much time worrying about settings, you’ll never get to composition.
It's important that you learn to use post-processing tools so that you can make edits to your composition. I like to tell people that no matter how good the image is when you capture it, it’s only about 70% finished. About 25-30% of an image is how it’s processed.
Can people take post-processing too far? Absolutely, but part of your “style” will be how you process images.
There are numerous great tutorials out there you can buy or find online that will give you all kinds of new ways to see your finished images. Remember, the goal is to never process just like the person showing you their workflow. Rather, you should aim to find a few little things from different sources that you can combine with your own editing ideas to help your vision emerge. I’ve been using Photoshop for over 20 years, and I still look for new ways to process files.
Adding a vignette around an image can help to pull the eye away from the edges towards the middle of the frame and improve your composition. Be careful though, as too much vignette can be distracting too.
Sometimes when I'm in-field, I’ll shoot intentionally a little wider than I should. This gives me room to crop a little when I process. I’m constantly surprised at the little things that I might miss along the edges of a frame, or how badly I didn’t keep the horizon straight. If you’re handholding images, there’s always a better chance you’ll need to do some post-processing image straightening to improve your composition in editing.
Colour images are great but remember that photography was a black and white medium before colour film was on the scene. I’ve taken images in the middle of the day that looked drab and boring in colour, but they had a great tonal range so when I converted them to black and white, they really stood out.
Try converting your images to black and white to see if it improves or simplifies your composition. You might be surprised with the results!
- See also: 11 Tips to Help You Capture Stunning Landscape Photographs
In addition to all of these little tips that I've mentioned above, there are many other ways that you can learn to master the art of composition.
How many times have you seen a photograph online and thought, “I’ve been there, how did they SEE that shot?”
Photography workshops are great ways to get to amazing locations and have a professional or two on-hand to give you useful tips. Seeing what the other photographers in the group create can also give you some ideas on how to improve your own compositions.
Watch what your instructors shoot and how they work. Taking private classes will ensure that you have more attention to your own photographic process, as opposed to a larger group with more needs and logistics.
- See also: 6 Things to Consider When Joining a Photography Tour
I think looking at other people's photography is really helpful in improving your own work. I love looking at all types of photography. Oftentimes, photographers in other genres of photography will do things differently, or in a way that I find I can apply to my own work. For instance, a lot of techniques that get used for composition in portrait photography can be translated to wildlife photography and vice versa.
I also like to look at bad photos and try to figure out how I might improve on the composition if I were there taking the shot.
Photographers need to realise that composition is the hardest part of photography. Mastering composition is not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen after one photography workshop either. It’s a process that develops over time.
Anyone can learn to use camera settings; that’s the easy part. The art form in the medium of photography comes from being able to see images in the field and then having the skillset to take that vision from the field into the computer so that you can finish it.
The more you shoot, the better you’ll get at composition. You need to be out shooting often in order to improve. You’re developing a skill and like any skill, the more you work it, the better your compositions will be. Even when you don’t have a camera with you, you can set up compositions in your head for the way you would shoot it if you did.
- See also: 8 Tips to Improve Your Landscape Photographs
In the end, as challenging as composition may be, it is where the creativity with photography comes in. Any one of us can go to the same location at the same time of day but it’s what we do with the camera that sets us apart.
Now that you've got some background knowledge of compositional concepts, principles and techniques, you can start to look out for these elements while you’re out shooting and apply them to your images. When you look at other photos, try to find these elements of composition within them. See how other photographers utilise them. Successful compositions often contain many of the strategies listed above, used in an harmonious and aesthetically pleasing way.
Mastering composition won’t happen in a weekend; it takes time. So be patient with yourself. Keep looking for inspiration from others and keep an eye trained on how their photos might work compositionally. Most importantly, get out there and start practicing!
About the author: Brian Rueb is a photographer based in the USA. You can find more of his work on his website or by following him on Facebook and Instagram .
Did you find this Ultimate Guide to Composition helpful? What other tips and tricks have you tried for composing in photography? Leave a comment below!
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Composition Photography- Everything you need to know
Photography is a creative art that you can master when you get an artistic vision. To establish your creativity and refine your artistic vision, you need to understand how to compose an image. Before that, you have to clearly understand what composition is and how it differentiates and projects your style of photography. Here in this article, you will find the details about the depth of composition photography. Hence, dive in to learn more.
W hat is a Composition in photography?
Composition refers to the way you position the elements of a scene within the frame such that your photograph tells a story or conveys a message. Hence, it gives a structure to your photo. It also determines how your image appeals to your viewer and attracts them. Although there are no definite rules you can follow to compose a photograph, specific established guidelines help you convey your emotion or idea within the frame. You can use these to create stunning compositions that have already been time-tested in the field of art. In addition, these techniques come in handy to express your vision through your photographs, provided you familiarize yourself with them. The composition technique relies on elements that play a vital role in determining the quality of your image. Dive in to learn more about the features of the composition.
The Elements of Composition
The elements of composition are those that are available in your photographic scene. Therefore, you can leverage the functional features to enrich your image and create a stunning composition that fits your photo. The essential elements of composition include:
You can use lines to draw your viewer’s attention and divert their focus to specific parts of the frame.
- Leading lines : These lines directly point to your subject and lead your viewer to it. E.g., Rivers and streams are excellent ways to integrate leading lines into the image .
- Converging lines: A group of edges that point toward the center of the frame from all directions. E.g., edges from numerous buildings or trees.
A shape is formed when a line or more lines close or connect. They are two-dimensional and can define the structure of an object. When you compose your image using shapes, you can add exciting details and give a unique look. This is possible because you can transform a familiar body into an unfamiliar object based on the photographic perspective. In addition, when different shapes intersect and overlap, they combine to form a new shape. Photographically, a silhouette is the purest form of Shape. There are two types of shapes:
- Geometric: circle, square, triangle, dodecahedron, and so on.
- Organic Shape: the outline of a bird, elephant, flower, tree, etc
A three-dimensional shape is called a form. In a photograph, a form is often portrayed only with two dimensions. Hence the photographers have to show the depth of an object through their photography skills. For example, they often capture the shadows of an object or showcase the difference in tones to show its depth. The two types of the form include:
- Geometric: sphere, cube, cone, cylinder, and so on.
- Organic: objects that surround us in our three-dimensional world.
The texture is the visual appearance of an image. In photography, shadow is used to emphasize texture. Additionally, you can show a texture with the help of a pattern. For example, objects with a smooth surface are identified with reflections, whereas those with a rough surface are devoid of it. Further, your viewer will be able to feel a texture only when he is already aware of it. On the contrary, he will not be able to handle it.
A color is characterized by hue, value, and saturation . Coloring describes the shade of the color. Value refers to the brightness or darkness of the paint, while saturation pertains to the intensity of a color. Initially, you need to look for tints in a scene and decide whether to include or exclude them from your composition. You can choose this based on how the use of colors highlights your subject and conveys the mood of your image.
When forms and shapes are arranged in a frame, they occupy space. This space surrounding the elements in a photograph is called negative space , an interesting compositional element.
Principles of composition
When you fill your frame with repeating patterns or shapes randomly or repetitively, you create a sense of movement called rhythm.
Suppose you divide an image into two halves. In that case, the image components can either duplicate on both sides of the image or consist of dissimilarly placed elements that attract your viewers.
Proportion is the technique of adequately sizing or scaling the components of an image about each other and to the entire picture. For example, you can arrange the elements in your frame that highlight the difference in the proportion of their sizes.
Emphasis refers to the way you give importance to a subject within the frame intentionally. There are a variety of ways to highlight your intentional subject. For example, you can use a color different from other image elements. Alternatively, try playing with selective lighting or include leading lines and proportion or group the subject in a specific fashion.
The harmony technique involves pointing out similar elements in the subjects of an image. Harmonious images highlight how different objects share similar characteristics and have a relaxing effect on the viewer.
Contrary to the concept of harmony, contrast focuses on elements that differ from the rest of the image. These differences are highlighted to add life and interest to the picture. In addition, care must be exercised while integrating contrast, as it shouldn’t be overdone. It is instrumental when you want to arrest your viewer’s attention.
The technique of capturing moving objects using creative shutter speeds , panning, or zooming with the camera is called movement. Although a still image is devoid of movement, the subjects are captured while they move.
Gestalt Principles of Composition
The gestalt principles of psychology help photographers in composing the image. These principles explain how the human mind processes the things it perceives. Hence, photographers can use these principles to enhance their image’s perception effectively. These include:
When two objects appear closer together, the human mind assumes that they interact. For example, here, the flower is close to the camera. The size of the object causes your eyes to perceive it as the lady’s skirt.
When you capture lines or patterns that repeat, your eyes perceive them to prolong even beyond the frame. For instance, in the image given below, the chain seems to climb to the sky.
According to this principle, the elements of your image are arranged to project a different shape the mind perceives. For example, the image below projects a circular shape with a few cookies arranged in a specific manner. Hence, you can use this principle to create a lot of optical illusions.
You can group objects of similar characteristics as the human mind quickly recognizes them. For example, you break down the below image into two parts, one of them unifying all the whole oranges while the other shows the sliced orange standing out.
This principle highlights your perception of an image from the ground and relates it to the subject. For example, in the below image, you perceive the stones from the ground and understand the stones’ position.
When arranging the elements in a frame, you can separate them equally with an imaginary line. For example, the below image can be divided equally into two identical halves, and each of them carries elements that are present in both halves.
Tips to Find the Right Composition
1. inspiration and learning to see.
Photography is your creative expression of artistic vision. Hence, unless you train your eyes to look at other art forms, you will not be able to envision the composition of your image. For this purpose, you could either take a painting class or frequent visits to art galleries.
2. Do Your Research and Plan Your Shoot
To get a splendid photograph, you need to invest much of your time researching and planning your shoots. Doing your research about a location helps you find the appropriate moment and plan your shoot accordingly.
3. Arrive Early
Once you choose your location and fix your time to shoot, you need to arrive early to the spot to plan for your composition. Arriving early, allows you to experiment with unique perspectives and helps you react better when the shooting starts.
1. the left to right rule.
The left-to-right rule is based on the logic that our eyes move from left to right while reading. As a result, subconsciously, our eyes will search for images that constantly move in the same direction as our reading. Since this rule is contradictory to some countries where reading is practiced the other way round, you can consider it a general rule and bypass it as the situation demands. Nevertheless, it is one of the most accessible compositional techniques to use.
2. Rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is one of the straightforward composition basics. It helps create a balanced image and indicates the areas where your viewer’s eye wanders naturally. Hence, this rule breaks a scene into thirds horizontally and vertically, forming 9 equal rectangles. The point of intersection of these rectangles is said to be those spots where your viewer’s eyes tend to go. As a result, you need to place your main subjects at these points and click them to generate compelling images.
3. Rule of space
According to the space rule, you need to leave enough space in front of your main subject, especially if moving or looking away from the camera. This ensures you intrigue your viewers to know what captures the main subject’s attention. However, depending on the message you wish to convey through the image, you can make or break the rule.
4. Rule of odds
According to the rule of odds, capturing an odd number of subjects renders a balanced image. However, capturing your subjects in odd numbers less than 5 is preferred as these don’t clutter your image.
5. Golden Ratio
The golden ratio is a mathematical term that was applied to photography. You can use it for photographic composition in two ways. They include:
- Golden Grid or Phi Grid
- Golden Spiral or Fibonacci Spiral
Golden Grid or Phi Grid
The golden grid divides your frame into 9 rectangles, similar to the rule of thirds . However, the rectangles are not equal in size. Contrastingly, they are in the ratio 1: 0.618: 1. This means the rectangles in the center are smaller than the rest of it. The technique of the golden grid is quite an advanced technique of composition compared to the rule of thirds. When an image is composed with this grid, it gives a natural feeling to the viewer as it is commonly found in nature.
Golden Spiral or Fibonacci Spiral
The golden spiral usually begins at any corner of the frame and grows at the rate of the golden ratio. You can train your eye to look at the golden ratio by studying specific photographs in detail. In addition, the golden spiral is also highly prevalent in the environment.
6. Golden Triangle
The golden triangle is quite similar to the rule of thirds, but it divides the frame with a diagonal line that runs from one corner to the other. In addition, from the other two corners, two more lines are dropped to meet the diagonal lines at right angles. Hence, it gives rise to a series of triangles that helps you to introduce an element of ‘dynamic tension’.
7. Negative Space
The space surrounding your main subject in the photo is the negative space , whereas your main subject forms the positive area. Although monotonous, the negative space enhances your image’s visual appeal to your viewer.
Being the most powerful technique that contributes to your image’s composition, you can use negative space to:
- Draw your viewer’s eye toward the subject
- Create the correct relationship between the main subject and the background.
- Provide space in the photograph and prevent clutter.
- Define and emphasize the main subject.
- Portray an emotion or feeling
However, use this technique with diligence to reap its benefits.
Change your camera angle to create stunning images. For this purpose, you can get higher, lower, or even lie down to capture a scene from an unseen perspective, making your picture fascinating.
9. Horizon Line
A line that runs across the photograph through which the horizon travels is called a horizon line. A natural line divides the picture but vanishes as the land or water meets the sky. It is used to communicate depth in a photo and emphasize subjects. Based on the emphasis, you can use the horizon line in different parts of a photograph.
An excellent way to approach composition is by following the rules of simplicity. For example, you must identify and isolate the subject of your interest among a plethora of subjects in an exciting scene. Following this, you must exclude the clutter in the scene to direct your viewer’s attention to the object of your interest.
11. Fill the Frame
If you happen to meet a majestic subject, you can fill your frame with the subject. This way, you will highlight your subject’s grandeur and convey it to your viewer.
Common Composition Mistakes and ways to fix them
1. sloppy or busy edges.
While you photograph at a wide angle, ensure you leave some extra space. This extra space helps while editing the image. Also, when you want to get rid of distractions, a lack of space may force you to cut down on anything important.
2. Uneven Horizon Line
In some cases, even when your camera is placed at a perfect level, your images may contain tilted subjects at intense angles. In this case, straighten the horizon line while post-processing.
3. Not Making the Subject the Focus of the Frame
When you have chosen your subject, you must highlight it in your image to attract your viewer to it. For this purpose, ensure to fill your frame with your main subject and that it occupies space.
4. Subject Leaving the Frame
Since your viewer’s eyes will always follow the moving subject in your image, ensure to place them such that they are moving into the frame or looking towards the center. This will prevent your viewer’s eyes from moving away from the frame.
5. The Scene Feels Unbalanced
To balance a scene, slightly change the angle by moving towards the left or right of your main subject. In addition, you can even stoop down low to get a new perspective.
6. The Scene is Too Busy
When you’re trying to photograph your subject, your scene may be busy. In such a case, you can blur or test the bokeh effect for the background. In addition, if your composition is too broad, you can tighten the frame.
7. The Depth of Field Isn’t Right
If your images are not quite sharp, you may have issues with the depth of field settings. For this purpose, you can raise the aperture and shoot at f/16 or higher.
How to Improve Composition in Editing?
A vignette helps you pull your viewer’s eye from the edges to the middle of the frame. Although the vignette improves your composition, you need to use it diligently to avoid distraction.
Cropping helps you cut out unimportant or distracting elements in a scene. Hence, to crop your edges perfectly, you must shoot a little wider. This ensures you don’t miss out on essential parts of an image.
Converting an Image to Black and White
Although color images are visually appealing, they look drab and uninteresting at times. In such cases, you can convert these images to black and white to make them stand out and achieve surprising results.
Other Ways to Improve Your Compositional Skills in Photography
Step 1: take a workshop or hire a photographer.
Photography enables you to shoot a scene in different ways. You may have been to the same place as an amateur, but the photographer will project it quite differently. Naturally, this makes you wonder about how the scene has been shot. To know more about the techniques of a particular photograph, you need to interact with those photographers. For this purpose, either you can hire a photographer or be a part of the workshop to learn more about improving your compositions .
Step 2: Look at Other Photos for Inspiration
Exposing yourself to a wide variety of photographs, both good and bad, helps you analyze your composition point. Good pictures tell you how well you can project a shot, while bad photographs instigate you to explore and portray them better. Since it’s a win-win in both ways, always look out for seeing different types of photos.
Step 3: Be Patient
Once you are well exposed to different photos, you will begin investing your time in shooting through various scenes. At this stage, you would have mastered the camera settings quickly. However, composing a photo takes time, as it entirely depends on your artistic vision. Therefore, your creative vision develops depending on your practice and patience in mastering the art.
Step 4: Practice
To get a hold of composition, you need to click as much as possible. For this, you need to visit places of interest and shoot to improve your composition. However, even with the absence of a camera, continue training your eye and composing images in your mind. This way, you can prepare yourself to compose great photographs.
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Thus, you can master the art of composing an image with practice and patience. As an amateur photographer, you may find yourself at a disadvantage in several circumstances. But you must persevere, have an excellent feedback mechanism with your network of professional photographers, and focus on improvement. This way, slowly but steadily, you will gain mastery over your niche.
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What is Photo Composition in Photography?
- by Harry Davies @harry_davies
Discover this type of photographic composition where the only limit is your own imagination
Although, when we talk about photo composition, many will think of linotypes used in graphic arts, in photography, it has more to do with creative collage and photo retouching.
What is photo composition?
It is a photographic style that consists of creating images from several photographs. To obtain good results in photo composition, it is not necessary to use many media or extremely sophisticated cameras because the success of a good composition lies in the concept behind it. What is required are high-quality images and, above all, a good command of photographic retouching to ensure that, however unlikely the resulting photographs may be, the look is completely realistic and close to what a picture would look like without intervention.
Who can create photo compositions?
It is not essential to know about photography to make good photo compositions. Anyone can learn to master this technique; you just need to know how to retouch photos and have a lot of imagination.
Many photographers and photo editors are inspired by paintings to create their work. Photo composition encourages surrealism and exaggeration. With the right means, there is no limit to the imagination when it comes to creating photo compositions: from the creation of imaginary planets to the most fanciful scenes, from the most unexpected of perspectives. Everything has a place in the universe of photo composition.
What do you need to create a photo composition?
For optimal results, digital retouching programs such as Adobe Photoshop or other photo editing software are recommended.
It is also advisable to have access to image banks: in order to include the different components, you must have the relevant copyright of each of the photographs or elements within them that you want to be part of the photo composition.
In order to work optimally with your photo compositions, the images you work with must also have the best possible quality and a size that allows you to print or use your photo composition in digital projects with good results. For this, image banks are also useful.
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Composition in Photography: A Complete (and Modern) Guide
A Post By: Ana Mireles
If you’re looking to learn about composition in photography, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, I’ll cover what composition is, and I’ll explain how to use it to make your images eye-catching and unique.
So whether you’re a beginner photographer learning the basics or a more experienced shooter who wants to improve, read on to find out some of the most effective composition tools, concepts, and guidelines available!
What is composition in photography?
Composition in photography refers to the position of elements inside the frame and how they interact with each other.
Ultimately, composition is about the visual structure of your image.
Why is composition important?
The composition of your photograph impacts the way it’s perceived by others. When you choose what to fit inside the frame and what you leave out, where to position each element and so on, you’re capturing a scene with your unique vision.
That’s why it’s important to carefully compose your photos!
Basic techniques and concepts for composition in photography
We are instinctively attracted to images with a good composition.
Because we find them harmonious or interesting!
However, we are not as naturally skilled at creating stunning compositions.
That’s why photographers have developed basic compositional guidelines and concepts that can quickly improve photo compositions – without requiring years of experience.
The rule of thirds
You’ve probably heard about the rule of thirds – or at the very least, you’ve seen it. That’s because most cameras, including the one on your smartphone, have a rule of thirds grid overlay.
The rule of thirds grid is formed by four lines – two vertical and two horizontal – placed at an equal distance from each other and the photo edges (so the frame is divided into thirds).
But what actually is the rule of thirds?
It’s a guideline stating that you should position compositional elements along your gridlines – and that the focal point of your composition should sit at one of the gridline intersection points.
You can follow this rule in both portrait and landscape orientation, and it works for all types of photography. For example, if you are doing a full-body portrait, you should often place the subject toward one of the gridlines and not in the center.
And when you’re photographing a landscape, you should put the horizon toward the top or bottom third of the image and never in the middle.
Note that the rule of thirds is a guideline, not a true rule . Once you’ve mastered it, I recommend trying to violate it with other concepts – such as symmetry, or with even more complex techniques such as the golden ratio (discussed below).
Leading lines direct the viewer through the image, like this:
When you read a text in English, you automatically start at the top left. Then you continue toward the right until the end of the line.
The same thing happens in photography. When we see an image, we also “read” it. Your eye goes from one element to the next – in order to view details and understand the story that’s being told.
That’s where the leading lines come into play: They guide the eye through the image.
Leading lines can be present or implied, and they can be straight or curved. For example, a leading line can be a curvy road getting lost in the mountains. This will compel viewers to follow the road, pulling them into the image.
Texture is often overlooked as an element of the composition. You can use it to create contrast between two elements – one that is smooth and one that is rough, for example.
You can also use texture to create interesting shapes and leading lines, or to add interest to an otherwise dull subject.
To work with textures, you need to consider the type and direction of the light. A hard light that comes from the side will emphasize the texture. A soft light coming from the front flattens the surface.
Color is a key consideration for composition in photography. There are so many color harmonies that you have endless possibilities!
You can use complementary colors to create contrast and make your subject stand out. And you can bring together apparently unrelated elements that are united via a color scheme.
A good way to learn and understand color palettes is Adobe Color . You can use this tool even if you don’t have an Adobe subscription.
Simply select a color wheel with different color harmony rules, such as monochromatic, complementary, etc. You can also upload a photograph to extract the color scheme or gradient. And to stay updated, you can browse trends based on Adobe Stock and Behance.
My favorite tool in Adobe Color is Explore, where you can input a concept or a mood and see the colors that represent it (with multiple examples from the visual arts).
As photographers, we’re used to thinking of ways to add depth to a two-dimensional surface.
Because of that, it’s easy to overlook the importance of shapes . Yet when you’re composing your images, you can use shapes to establish a careful arrangement.
Think of a cake being photographed from the top; that’s a circle. If you cut out a slice, then you’re adding a triangle to the composition.
Every shape gives a different feel to our photographs. For example, squares convey stability, while circles make you think of movement and energy.
That’s why posing a group for a corporate portrait usually means forming squares or rectangles, whereas family portraits are often posed in triangles or dynamic shapes.
A good way to practice shape-based composition is by using shadows or shooting silhouettes . That way, you take out any three-dimensionality and focus only on the shape of objects.
Symmetry is defined as something that is exactly the same on both sides, such as a mountain peak or a tree trunk.
And it can work great in art – as long as you use it carefully.
Note that, in art, a scene is rarely 100 percent symmetrical. Instead, you’ll end up with scenes that are almost symmetrical and are well-balanced on both sides.
Like this lake photo:
The trees and water aren’t perfectly symmetrical, but they’re close, and the overall scene has a feeling of balance.
Take a portrait as another example. If you photograph a face perfectly centered in the frame, your image will be symmetric. It won’t matter if the subject has a birthmark on one of their cheeks, or that one of their eyes is slightly lower than the other – the symmetry will dominate.
One of the reasons we find symmetry so appealing is because we often find it in nature. And psychologically speaking, symmetry offers a sense of order that makes us feel at ease.
(A great way to play with symmetry in your photography is by shooting reflections or patterns !)
Another important concept that can enhance your composition is contrast .
Since we are talking about photography, the first thing that comes to mind is contrasting light, such as low key photography . Here, you capture a very dark image where only a small detail is highlighted (which makes for a highly dramatic result).
However, tonal contrast is not the only type of contrast you can use to improve your compositions. You can also use color contrast (as discussed earlier), juxtaposition , and conceptual contrast (which pairs opposite ideas or aesthetics).
Advanced composition in photography
Once you’ve mastered the basics of composition, it’s time to challenge yourself and move on to more advanced techniques.
Here are some of the most popular tools to consider:
The rule of space
The rule of space tells you to leave space in front of the subject, especially if it’s a moving subject. The idea is that the viewer needs enough room to imagine the subject carrying on the action that it’s performing.
For example, if a duck is paddling away, you would put significant space in front, like this:
And according to the rule of space, if you photograph a person who’s running to the right, you should place them on the left side of the frame (and vice versa).
But remember that there’s an exception to every rule, especially when it comes to composition. So if you want to add tension or intrigue the viewer, try violating the rule of space!
The complicated thing about composition is that you must choose to apply or break the rules depending on the message you want your image to convey.
The rule of odds
The rule of odds is based on the principle that people find it more interesting to see odd numbers. While even numbers show stability and work well for symmetric compositions, odd numbers allow the eye to flow through the image.
So according to the rule of odds, you should include odd numbers of items in your compositions.
I recommend you use this rule when it fits the situation, much like you would with shapes. If you want a dynamic composition, you use triangles, diagonal lines, and odd numbers. And if you prefer stability, you can choose straight lines, squares, and even numbers.
In any case, the important thing is to use the rules to your advantage and take control of your compositions.
When you’re shooting food or products, it’s often easier to follow the rule of odds.
But following the rule of odds isn’t as easy when you’re photographing a family of four; you can’t just decide to exclude one of them!
(Though when you’re facing this situation, you can arrange the group so the viewer sees one plus three instead of four.)
In the first part of the article, I talked about using shapes to compose your images.
But did you know that the most popular shape in composition is the triangle?
You can create triangles with poses in portraits, mountains in a landscape, or a church tower on your travels.
However, if you want to up your game a bit more, you can use golden triangles . This composition technique divides the frame first with a line that connects one corner with the opposite one, then adds two smaller lines coming out from each of the remaining corners.
Ideally, you would place the most important elements of the composition where the lines intersect. To achieve this, you may have to tilt your camera; this is called a Dutch angle (aka the Dutch tilt, German tilt, or Batman angle).
That’s why it’s not always possible to use the golden triangle guideline (or, at least, it’s not always the best choice!).
The golden ratio
The golden ratio is a mathematical term that was later applied to art and eventually photography. It equates to 1.618, and there are two ways it can be applied to photographic composition:
As a grid or as a spiral.
The golden grid (aka the Phi Grid)
The Phi Grid divides the frame into nine blocks, just like the rules of thirds.
However, this grid doesn’t follow a 1:1:1 ratio – which means the blocks are not the same size. Instead, the grid is 1:0.618:1, so you get smaller blocks toward the center, like this:
This composition tends to be more natural, as the golden ratio is also found in nature. It also has a better reputation than the rule of thirds, which many consider to be amateurish – a first step that should be quickly outgrown for more complex techniques.
The golden spiral (aka the Fibonacci spiral)
For this composition tool, you should follow a spiral whose growth factor is the golden ratio.
It looks like this (though note that it can begin at any corner of the frame):
This spiral is found in natural structures such as sunflowers, pine cones, seashells, etc. You can also find it in many artworks and buildings because many artists have used it throughout the centuries.
To train your eye, you can print or draw a golden spiral, then use it to study the photographs from Irving Penn or Henri Cartier-Bresson , who both used the golden spiral to achieve astonishing results.
Composition in photography: conclusion
Now that you know most of the popular composition tools, you can use them to dramatically improve your images!
I know it’s a lot of information, but composition in photography will become more intuitive as you get more practice.
My suggestion is to keep it simple at first and practice the tools one by one.
Once you get comfortable with each composition guideline, you can combine them to achieve a more complex result.
These are just guidelines you can use as you see fit to find your own artistic vision.
Now over to you:
Which of these composition techniques is your favorite? Which do you plan to use in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Composition in photography FAQs
To emphasize an element in your photograph, you need to draw the viewer’s attention to it. You can use composition techniques, such as leading lines, to achieve this.
No, the rules of composition don’t have a hierarchy. Instead, rules work better in different situations, and the best technique for one photograph can be wrong for the next one.
Yes, these rules apply to all types of photography, including mobile and video. If you want some help getting started, most camera phones have a grid overlay that follows the rule of thirds. You can enable/disable it in the settings section. Alternatively, you can install a camera app that supports different types of grids (such as A Better Camera ).
You can use Lightroom’s overlays to improve the compositions of your photos. To use these, select the Crop tool from the Develop panel. Make sure that the Overlay is enabled. Then press the “O” key to toggle between all the available overlays.
Absolutely! Even though some of them are called rules, they are only guidelines, tools, and techniques to help you achieve better results. There’s always flexibility to experiment. It’s important to know the rules before you break them, though!
Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category
is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here .
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