Composition plays a vital role in how your photograph turns out.
It can truly make or break your image.
Well in this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about composition in photography.
We’ll be covering the following topics:
What Is Composition in Photography?
Composition is all about the placement of elements within the frame in a manner in which the final image appears perfect.
Photography is a visual art and one that is heavily dependent on certain rules and regulations that are devised to capture better compositions.
Interestingly the word composition applies to not only photography but also many other forms of visual art, including dance, literature, and the art form of singing.
For the other art forms composition has distinct meanings.
When it comes to photography, however, the word composition is all about laying out the elements within the frame in a beautiful way for the perfect picture.
Now, perfection is a relative term, and it has a different connotation for different people. So, what is perfect for you may not be perfect for me, and vice versa.
So, I am not going to go into that discussion.
How Is Composition Used in Photography?
The task of composition is to present the subject of a photo in a way so that it appears more aesthetically pleasing and therefore gets more eyeballs.
Watch this video to see all the composition techniques used in photography:
All that we have learned and will learn in this guide on composition has the sole purpose of fulfilling that only objective.
But then not all compositions are visually pleasing. For example, there is this rule of symmetry that speaks about balance in your composition.
For example, let’s say that there are a few single-storied buildings on one side of the frame, and the other side has a single multi-storied building.
The two sides of the frame balance each other out.
But what if the other side has nothing? Just negative space? It will be a lop-sided composition with one side dominating the other.
The result will not be visually pleasing as the brain will try to find something that balances out the blank space.
Another example is a composition of a boat that is being rocked by strong waves. As you will agree a boat striding on calm waters is a visually serene composition.
But one where choppy water is rocking the boat certainly isn’t.
Again, this is an example of a composition that is not visually pleasing, as it introduces tension.
So, the composition may or may not be always visually pleasing. But the sole purpose is to introduce a subject in a way that it captures the attention of the viewer.
Why Is Composition Important in Photography?
Just like when cooking you cannot just put all the ingredients together and hope that it all comes together, you have to know exactly how much of it to put in and how much to cook.
In the same way in photography, you have to know how many of the elements you have to put inside the frame for the composition to appear good.
Not only that, but you also have to know exactly how to put those elements in the frame so that the composition appears good.
There are some tried and tested methods for improving composition.
These rules have evolved over the years and were originally part of painting which is also a visual art form.
Some of these rules have also been used in architecture like the golden spiral from which the rule of thirds has been developed has been found to have been used in Greek architecture.
Composition is one of the most critical aspects of photography because it can make or break an image.
If a photographer does not have a proper idea about composition, he or she can easily make a hash of even a good scene.
On the other hand, if a photographer has an excellent idea about composition, he or she can make even a poor scene produce an impactful image.
A good composition will highlight the most important aspect of a photograph, usually the subject of the photograph, and capture the viewers’ attention towards it.
Basic Principles of Composition in Photography
Most beginner photographers would ask how you improve your composition. And also what are the basic principles of composition in photography?
Now, I have named a few of the photographic compositional rules in the previous bag graphs.
There are many such other photographic compositional rules which can help you get a better composition going.
In this paragraph, I will detail a few of those compositional rules and how you can incorporate them into your photography to improve your work –
1. Use a Focal Point Rather Than Let the Camera Decide on One
Always insist on having a main focal point for your images. The main focal point can be the main subject of interest.
It can also be multiple subjects at different distances from the camera. It can also be a pattern, or the absence of it, or anything else that draws the attention of the viewer.
A focal point is where the attention of the viewer goes straight away when he or she looks at your photograph.
To choose a focal point you have to use single-point autofocus mode and coincide one of the AF points with where your subject of interest is in the frame.
2. Use the Rule of Thirds as a Compositional Rule
The rule of thirds is probably the most well-known photographic rule of composition. The rule of thirds can be understood by an easy example.
Let’s say you want to capture a landscape image and there is this singletree in the middle of nowhere.
Now imagine the entire frame of your camera is divided into 9 equal boxes by two sets of parallel lines running left to right and top to bottom.
As you can imagine there will be four points of intersection where the parallel lines will cut each other.
These four points intersections are considered to be the ones where the attention of the viewer is the highest.
Placing any subject coinciding with one of these four points gets the highest amount of attention.
3. Using a Shallow Depth of Field or Wide-Open Aperture
A wide-open aperture is an easy way to isolate the subject of interest from the background and the foreground.
Wide apertures allow for a shallow depth of field and this is usually done when the background is cluttered and does not add to the overall composition.
Please note, that we defined composition as something where you not only decide where to put the elements in the frame but also how many elements you would want to be visible in the frame.
Usually, when photographers find that a subject is in a cluttered area, they switch to a wide-open aperture to ensure that the background is out of focus and therefore blurred.
This automatically puts the focus back on the subject of interest.
How to Learn Composition in Photography?
In my personal opinion, the best way to learn composition is to follow some of the Masters of Photography and their work.
If you are an aspiring landscape photographer follow pioneers like Ansel Adams, arguably the greatest landscape photographer ever.
Try to imbibe the methods and techniques that he has used in his photography.
If you are an aspiring wildlife photographer simply pick up a few recent editions of the National Geographic magazine and you will have tons of inspiration as to what makes a great wildlife photo.
The same thing goes for somebody who is an aspiring wedding or portrait photographer, except in this case, you have tons of material online to take inspiration from.
There are hundreds of successful wedding photographers as well as portrait photographers who you can choose to follow on social media.
At the end of the day, no matter the photographer you choose to follow or draw inspiration from you have to cultivate your style of photography.
And this will only happen when you shoot continuously.
You will slowly realize that you are drifting away from the style that you are drawing inspiration from establishing what is your style of photography.
It is this transition and final form that makes you unique, a photographer with a style of his or her own.
If you want to explore further composition tips, I recommend checking out these videos by Julia Trotti and The Art of Photography (as well as the one listed in the previous section):
- Editing Software
- Understand the Rule of Thirds: The Rule of Thirds is a fundamental principle of composition in photography. Imagine dividing your frame into nine equal parts by drawing two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, creating a grid. The goal is to place key elements of your photo along these lines or at the points where they intersect. This technique helps create balance and visual interest in your composition.
- Pay Attention to Balance and Symmetry: Balance is an important aspect of composition. You can achieve balance by distributing the visual weight of your photo evenly across the frame. This can be done through symmetry, where the elements on one side of the frame mirror those on the other, creating a sense of harmony. Alternatively, you can use asymmetry by placing larger or visually heavier objects on one side and smaller objects on the other to maintain balance.
- Lead the Eye with Lines and Shapes: Lines and shapes can be powerful tools to guide the viewer's eye through your photograph. Look for natural lines or create them by positioning objects in a way that forms lines. Leading lines, such as roads, pathways, or fences, can draw the viewer's attention toward a specific focal point. Similarly, shapes, whether geometric or organic, can help direct the eye and add structure to your composition.
- Utilize Framing and Depth: Framing and depth can add depth and dimension to your photos. Framing involves using elements within the scene, such as arches, windows, or tree branches, to create a frame within the frame. This technique helps draw attention to the main subject and adds context. Additionally, incorporating elements in the foreground, middle ground, and background of your photo creates a sense of depth, making the image more visually engaging.
- Experiment with Perspectives and Points of View: Don't be afraid to explore different perspectives and points of view to create unique and captivating compositions. Instead of always shooting at eye level, try shooting from a low angle or a high vantage point. Changing your perspective can provide a fresh and interesting viewpoint, allowing you to capture scenes from a unique angle. Be creative and experiment with different compositions to find what works best for the subject you're photographing.
The composition brings together the elements in a frame in a presentable way and allows the main focus on the subject of interest.
It is composition alone that brings everything together without which a photograph cannot be made.
So, it is imperative that you learn the basics of composition along will the basics of exposure as you begin your journey in the world of photography.
I sincerely hope the above tips will help you start your journey on the right footing. Happy clicking and best of luck
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the basic composition rule in photography?
The basic composition rule in photography is the rule of thirds. It involves dividing the frame into a grid of nine equal parts using two horizontal and two vertical lines, and placing key elements of the photograph along these lines or at their intersections to create a balanced and visually appealing composition.
What makes good photo composition?
Good photo composition involves carefully arranging elements within the frame to create a visually pleasing and balanced image. This includes considering factors such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, symmetry, balance, framing, and perspective to guide the viewer’s eye and create a sense of harmony and impact in the photograph.
Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. The first time he ever clicked an image was with an Agfa Click IV back in 1984. A medium format film camera. From that auspicious introduction to photography, he has remained hooked to this art form. He loves to test and review new photography gear. Rajib travels quite a lot, loves driving on Indian roads, playing fetch with his Labrador retriever, and loves photography. And yes, he still proudly owns that Agfa Click IV! You can find my Model Mayhem profile here.