Photography Composition – Ultimate Guide
Composition is an essential skill to learn in photography. Learn how to improve your shots by learning different composition rules like the rule of third and many others
Photography composition consists of placing visual objects or elements in the frame to make it more appealing. Indeed, it is thanks to the composition that you can tell a story through an image.
The positioning of the subject(s) present in the frame is decisive to draw the spectator’s attention to the essential elements of your photograph. Sometimes, you even compose your photo to attract the eye in a particular order. This rule gives your photos more dynamic and impact.
Most beginners don’t know much about composition, and while there are no fixed rules in photography, this article regroups general guidelines that you can apply in almost any situation.
Once you’ve learned these practices, it’s surprising to see how many photographers use them. Furthermore, it really helps you to understand why some photos are engaging while others aren’t.
Remember: a good composition can make all the difference! It can enhance the simplest subjects while a bad composition can ruin a photo, despite the interest of the subject.
Unlike exposure or white balance that you can usually correct in post-processing, a poorly composed image does not catch up. You could apply a rule of thirds by doing a crop afterward; however, the interest to do it at the time of shooting is wiser. That’s why it’s essential to nail the composition while shooting.
An essential composition technic: Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is an essential technic in photography that must be understood from the beginning. It is an excellent starting point for composition, easy to implement and can be applied to any subject. It allows you to make them more dynamic and more interesting.
Rule of thirds requires to divide your image into nine equal parts by imagining two horizontal and two vertical lines. The intersection of these lines of forces creates four points of strength:
The idea is to place the essential parts on the lines of forces and intersections of this imaginary grid.
Tip: If you don’t want to do it mentally, many modern cameras, allow turning on a grid in your viewfinder or on the back of your LCD screen making it easy to practice!
Why does the rule of thirds work?
Our eyes go through an image in a particular order. This optical path performs a Z-shaped scan that is naturally applied from the four points of strength:
Thanks to this phenomenon the rule of thirds work well, and images seem more balanced.
If you are a beginner photographer, this simple guideline can make all the difference on your images. With time and experience, you will develop your own natural “meaning” for a balanced composition.
The question is whether or not each photo should be taken using the rule of thirds. You guessed it; the answer is absolutely not!
Guide the viewer attention in your composition: Leading Lines
Leading lines are the lines that lead the viewer’s eye through the image. It’s a composition technic that gives you the power to direct the viewer’s focus on what you want. This technique is helpful to compose photos with a massive visual impact. There are several leading lines such as straight, circular, diagonal, curvaceous, etc. Here are some examples:
Enhance your composition: Symmetry and patterns
Symmetry and patterns are everywhere and are potent composition tools that immediately draws attention; Indeed, the use of reflections is, for example, an excellent opportunity to use symmetry in your compositions.
You can even cumulate technics like here with symmetry and leading lines:
Composition made easy: Minimalism
Sometimes less is more. Minimalist photography is a concept that relies on simple compositions to create captivating images.
To do that it is necessary to remove all the distracting and useless elements from the scene and only keep the most interesting. Simple but very effective!
Frame your subject
This one is pretty simple, use a natural element in your environment to frame your subject:
When you apply the rule of thirds and place your main subject in the foreground off-center, it can let you with significant negative space in the scene. To avoid this emptiness, you can merely balance your composition with a less important subject place in the background.
Change your viewpoint
The point of view you shoot from have a significant influence on the composition; Indeed, it can change the message of your photo. Rather than always photographing at the subject level, try opting for unique shots (low-angle, high above, close up…) and try to find different spot to shoot from (you don’t want to take the same picture as everybody).
Fill the frame & keep your Subject in Focus
For this technique, you want to get close enough to make your subject a dominant portion of the final photograph. You don’t want the viewer to be distracted by background noise or unneeded details. If there is too much going on in your photo, the viewer attention can easily get lost.
Tip: If you had no choice when you took the picture you could easily crop the photo afterward. It’s particularly true when shooting a portrait in a busy location.
Rule of Odds
Quite unknown to photographers, this rule indicates that composing an image with an odd number of items would be more exciting and visually pleasing. Apparently, the human eye is naturally drawn to a group center, and if only two subjects are present, the eye falls between them. Placing your main subject between two others would draw attention to it.
This is a subjective rule; however, it does create balance especially when it is with a small amount (3/5).
Avoid cutting off the Limbs
It applies principally to people and animals’ photography where you must make sure you do not cut off any of their physical parts such as an ear or a tail. That can make you smile, but it is a common mistake when not paying attention, especially making animal photography.
Play with Depth of Field
Playing with Depth of Field is a great way to make your viewer focus on a particular subject. Changing Depth of Field changes entirely the type of picture you make and the message it conveys. If you want the viewer to focus on a particular part, a shallow Depth of Field can come in handy by blurring the background and isolating your subject. If you prefer to place your subject in a global context to tell a story, a greater Depth of Field is preferable. Learn more about Depth of Field (coming soon).
Experimentation and breaking the rules
There is no universal rule or composition technics to follow in every situation. Experimenting with multiple technics will help you to understand which is suitable for which kind of photography.
All these guidelines are very subjective, and even if some help to make better photographs, in the end, you do whatever you want!
Like Pablo Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”