What is Composition in Photography? Understanding Composition for Beginners

Ever wonder why your images look dull and flat? Chances are the composition, and you need to understand what it is!

What is photography composition? Why does composition matter? And most importantly, how does photography composition affect your image? 

As an amateur photographer with five years of experience, I often get asked this by beginners photographers.

Composition is one of the most important aspects of a photograph. Correct composition plays a vital role in a perfect picture.

In this post, I will explain what photography composition is, how it affects your images, and help you learn how to make great photography compositions.

What is Composition in Photography

In simple language, photography composition refers to how everything comes together in your image.

As a photographer, you arrange interesting compositional elements in such a way to express your thought, an emotion, or a feeling. 

In a word, composition in photography is about a careful, pleasing arrangement of the compositional elements that guide the viewer’s eyes/attention towards the scene’s most important points of interest.

Understanding how a viewer visually interacts with your arrangements will help you create more captivating and naturally balanced images.

Why is Composition Important in Photography?

Nowadays, the photographic process has become automated, but every image has a good composition at its core that your camera settings can’t decide for you.

Although photography composition sounds complicated at first for beginner photographers, learning to master photography composition techniques is a must.

A well-composed image is

  • clear
  • concise
  • and attractive

Plus, it’s well-balanced, more visually appealing to the viewer’s eyes, and makes them say, “Wow. This is beautiful!”

Conversely, a poorly composed image can be

  • dull
  • complex
  • and boring

A poorly composed image can make the viewer feel

  • something is wrong
  • confused
  • uncomfortable, etc

The more complete your understanding of photography composition, the more powerfully you can share your creative vision with your viewers.

No matter how expensive your camera equipment is, your images don’t look as compelling as professional photographers or artists without composition and light. 

On the other hand, someone with a cheaper camera and who masters photography composition techniques will more than likely be creating more compelling and more interesting images. 

Learn the Elements of Composition

Although there are many compositional elements in visual arts, you should be familiar with the seven fundamental elements of photography, including

  • line
  • shape
  • form
  • texture
  • pattern
  • color
  • and depth

These visual elements are not only the building blocks of photography composition but also essential composition tools for photographers.

These elements will help you create stunning compositions, and each of these can be combined together to make for more aesthetically pleasing images.

Understand the Elements of Composition

Understanding these elements of photography composition is essential to see as a professional photographer.

No matter what particular photograph a professional photographer is shooting, either street photography, landscape photography, or wildlife photography, etc. he is likely to use at least one or more of these elements to create a photography composition that works for the image. 

As a beginner, understand these elements, and learn how to see the world in terms of visual elements, you will be able to create a powerful photography composition. 

Analyze the Elements of Composition

Studying them, recognizing them, and using them help you create visually appealing images that you like.

When analyzing an image, rather than looking at an image as what it represents, learn to see the image as a careful arrangement of elements such as shapes, lines, and other compositional elements.

Plus, examine these visual elements to see how they combine to create the overall effect of the image.

Use the Elements of Composition

Using the elements in your favor as often as possible improves your composition skills.

For example, if you want to capture a classic landscape scene, in this case, photography composition refers to how important elements such as water interact with mountains, or how to position the trees in the image.

Ask yourself:

Should you put the trees lower or higher? Should you get closer to the trees?

Or should you add or exclude the rainbow, fog, sky, etc?

How do you reproduce the feeling in your image by arranging the visual elements intentionally?

Another example is in portrait photography, where you position the subject’s eyes about one-third of the way from the top of the frame. It creates visual impact and connection with the viewer, making your portrait’s image an inherent balance and a natural, pleasing feel. 

Seven Elements of Composition in Details

Below we’ll go into detail about each of these elements and examples of how you can use them in your photography composition.

1. Line

Line is the foundation of all the compositional elements. It refers to a mark that spans between two points.

Lines have different types and can be used in many different ways.

They are either

  • straight
  • curved
  • vertical
  • horizontal
  • diagonal
  • a combination of the two
  • or somewhere in-between

Lines are powerful tools to suggest

  • shape
  • pattern
  • form
  • structure
  • depth
  • distance
  • movement, etc.

With proper arrangements, you can use lines to:

1. Guide the viewers’ eyes around where you want them to travel, with actual and implied lines.

Human eyes like to follow lines, and you can use this to your advantage in your image – lead viewer’s eyes to your points of interest. This is often called “leading lines.” 

2. Emphasize the subject matter.

A typical example is converging lines like roads or pathways, power lines, etc., that converge at some point to emphasize the intentional subject.

3. Convey a sense of movement.

A good example is if people were standing in a line in your image, the viewer’s eyes would move slowly from left to right or right to left, or from the lower right corner to the upper left corner. 

leading lines composition in photography

Girl Walking Alone – The Leading Lines of This Bridge Provide a Very Geometrical Look to the Image.

2. Shape

The shape is the essential element in an image.

It refers to a flat, two-dimensional (only width and length, no depth) appearance of objects in your photo. 

If you look at an image of a full moon, you’ll find its shape as a circle.

Likewise, if you look at a picture of a paper box, you’ll find it’s square in shape. 

The shapes in photography are everywhere.

Our environment generously offers us a lot of different shapes of objects to shoot.

Besides the human eye, and wheels, there are

  • balls
  • clocks
  • fruit
  • globes
  • plates
  • cups
  • gears
  • trains
  • and signs in different shapes

to name a few.

It’s worth repeating that all shapes in photographic composition, whether it’s a car, a book, or a phone are two-dimensional representations of the objects your camera captures.

In photography, the best example of a two-dimensional shape is a silhouette – no color, form, or texture. 

Shapes are

  • natural or man-made
  • regular or irregular
  • representational or abstract
  • colored
  • patterned,
  • or textured

Shapes are usually defined by lines.

A line can be transformed into

  • a circle
  • a square
  • a triangle, etc.

Without a line, there can be no shape.

Combining shapes with lines in your image is an excellent way to express emotions to the viewers.

Different shapes in a photograph tend to convey different feelings.

For example, 

1. Squares and rectangles can convey a sense of strength and stability. 

2. Triangles could have two meanings depending on their position in your composition.

They can lead the viewer’s eye in an upward movement when pointing up, representing stability and power.

Conversely, inverted triangles become unstable, creating a sense of imbalance and tension.

3. Circles and ellipses can add energy and movement to your image.

If there are several of them in an image, they might suggest

  • joining
  • separating
  • cooperating
  • competing, etc.

shape composition in photography

Flower Petals Form Organic Shapes

3. Form

Form and shape are similar elements of composition. Form is the three-dimensional appearance of shape, having height, width and depth.

For example, a cylinder pen holder has a circle shape; if you photograph it in a certain way, it’ll have the form of a cylinder.

And while a museum has a rectangular shape, if you photograph it in a certain way, it’ll have the form of a rectangular prism.

If your images look flat and dull, it could be due to poor use of form.

Shape in your image is natural, you have to work to create form.

There are many ways you can make a form in your pictures, such as:

1. Shadow and light. Using light and shadow is a great way to make your object look more realistic and lifelike.  

2. A cold-warm contrast. Adding a contrast between cool and warm colors can make your image look more visually appealing due to its depth. Plus, adding contrasting elements in your frame is an effective way to tell a story.

3. Large aperture. Using a large aperture can make your image stand out since a blurred background can add depth to your image.

form composition in photography

Aerial Photography Of Bungalows – The Fall off of Light to Shadow Around the Houses Makes This Image Three Dimensional

4. Texture

Texture is a fundamental element in photography. Texture means the details that something feels to the touch or looks.

Texture is everywhere. You can find texture on

  • rocks
  • trees
  • human skin
  • a brick wall
  • or rough, bumpy, smooth, or rippled surfaces

Texture is perceived by touch. For example, when we feel the coat and skin of a dog.

Texture can be

  • smooth
  • rough
  • shiny
  • bumpy
  • soft
  • hard
  • wrinkly, etc.

Using a smooth texture and a rough one can create contrast between the two elements, and make your subject stand out.

Textures can evoke feelings we’ve had, such as

  • the feeling of pleasure
  • confidence
  • cheerfulness
  • calmness
  • frustration
  • excitement
  • sadness, etc. 

For example, something soft and fuzzy makes you feel happy because it reminds you of the cat you love.

A smooth texture can give you a sense of calm, peace, and balance.

A rough, irregular surface can make you feel uncomfortable.

There are many ways you can capture texture in your image, such as:

1. Use light and shadow. Texture becomes most visible through the use of light and shadow.

When a light source is low, like evening light, shadows grow longer and amplify texture.

In this case, working with artificial light makes the texture more apparent, and helps create the best visual results. 

2. Deep depth of field. A narrower aperture will create a deep depth of field, which will help you capture better texture.

If you feel an image looks too flat as you shoot, set an aperture of at least 2.8 and above for a better shot.

Otherwise, some parts of the image can be out of focus.

3. Post-processing. You can make your texture images more outstanding with post-processing software.

It gives you a lot more control and flexibility with the images.

You can easily make minor adjustments and look at the effects in Photoshop.

texture composition in photography

Desert textures – Ripples in the Sand Provide Great Texture

5. Pattern

Patterns in photography are

  • simple repeated lines
  • shapes
  • tones
  • textures
  • forms
  • or colors

that can create dramatic and appealing images.

They are regular or irregular, representational or abstract, uniform or loose.

Patterns are all around us in nature, architecture, and textiles.

Identifying patterns is something that sounds interesting to a beginner photographer.

You can find repeating patterns wherever you are – in your home, on the train, in your office.

Think of

  • a line of trees
  • flower rows of leaves on a tree
  • cracked earth
  • a floral dress
  • spirals
  • waves
  • spots
  • and many more

simply scan the environment for patterns. 

Undoubtedly, using repeating patterns effectively can create sound compositions which turn into something eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing. 

pattern composition in photography

Windows Pattern – a Repetition Pattern Created by the Windows of the Rooms

Look For Patterns in Nature, Architecture, and Textiles

Although our daily lives are filled with repeating patterns, we rarely think of them as photographic subjects.

So, the first step is to identify them in nature, architecture, or textiles.

1. Look for patterns in nature. Nature is filled with an endless range of possible patterns that make great photography themes.

Whether they’re organic patterns such as

  • rock formations
  • tree bark
  • repeating leaves, oceans
  • forests
  • and mountains
  • or mathematically modeled patterns like the nautilus shell

it’s not hard to find some fantastic examples of repetition.

pattern nautilus shell

2. Look for patterns in architecture. Most buildings have set structural formations and window patterns; hence buildings are often a great place to look for patterns.

You may have noticed a brick wall or the tiles of a rooftop containing repeating lines and shapes when you pass in front of buildings.

Furthermore, look for exteriors and interiors of buildings; you will find good examples of architectural patterns.pattern brick wall photography

3. Look for patterns in textiles. Textile patterns are widely used in textile printing or knitting.

They often come in all

  • colors
  • shapes
  • sizes
  • designs
  • and schemes.

You can easily find beautiful patterns on pillowcases,  bedsheets, bed covers, quilts, etc.

pattern textiles

Tips For Using Patterns

There are a few tips to photograph patterns effectively:

1. Fill the frame with your subject.

To maximize the visual impact of the pattern, try filling the frame with the subject without any distracting elements.

You can achieve this by moving physically closer to the subject or using a longer focal length if required.

2. Look for interesting patterns in nature.

Nature offers a wide range of patterns that lead to stunning images of nature, but above all, you need to notice them and then capture them.

3. Symmetrical composition.

Using symmetry and patterns can help you create powerful and well-balanced images that you like.

4. Use a macro lens.

Investing in a macro lens is a great way to photograph patterns in flowers, leaves, or other small objects almost invisible to the naked eye.

It’s an extreme close-up – the detailed patterns can be enlarged in your images. You would love it.

6. Color

Ever wonder why there are lots of sunset images?

Because the strong, vibrant, and saturated colors at sunset attract attention and make your images more attractive to your viewers.

Moreover, the colorful sunset can evoke emotions and may lead you somewhere else, somewhere in your wildest imagination that only you know.

Plus, color boost happiness or loneliness, depending on how you’re feeling. 

Undoubtedly, color has the strongest effect on emotions. It’s one of the main tools in photography composition technique.

We use colors to

  • harmonize
  • balance
  • create movement
  • express the mood
  • direct the viewer’s eyes
  • and hold the viewer’s attention to certain parts of the image. 

Although color science is complicated in photography, understanding colors and learning how to compose images using colors are essential for beginner photographers.

color in composition of photography

A Sunset Hammock

Use Color to Compose Images 

There are many ways to use color creatively:

  • warm and cool color contrast
  • complementary colors
  • analogous colors
  • monochromatic colors, etc.

These color schemes are used daily by photographers, graphic designers, and artists. 

1. Contrast warm colors with cool colors.

Color can be broadly split into two types: cool and warm colors.

Warm colors like red, orange and yellow connote warmth.

Blue, green, and purple are cool colors. Cool colors are more subdued and gentle.

Although there are so many different ways to tell a story with contrasting elements other than warm and cold colors, using warm and cool colors intentionally is an effective way to create depth, and make your image interesting, and more lifelike.

Contrast warm colors with cool colors

Blue (Cool) and Brown (Warm) Concrete Brick

2. Complementary colors.

Complementary colors are pairs of colors opposite one another on the color wheel.

Complementary colors make each other look brighter and more vivid when placed side-by-side. Plus, it can create contrast, visual interest in your photography compositions.

Complementary Colors - Blue and Yellow

Complementary Colors – Blue and Yellow

3. Analogous colors.

Analogous colors are three colors next to one another on the color wheel in your images.

For example, red, orange, and yellow are analogous colors; orange and yellow are analogous colors; green and blue are analogous colors.

Using analogous colors you can create inherently harmonious images that are calming to the eye.

Analogous colors green blue

Analogous Colors Green Blue

4. Monochromatic colors.

Monochrome is an image containing just one color or hue or different shades of a single color.

Black and white photography is the most prominent example, as they are simply hues of gray.

Many photographers use a monochromatic color scheme when they want to make a clean and simple image. It adds elegance to the image.

Feminine accessories Mint Color. Monochromatic Colors

Feminine Accessories Mint Color. Monochromatic Colors

When you understand these fundamental aspects of color theory, you will learn how to use color to create compositions with maximum visual appeal. That means more meaningful images are waiting for you to capture them!

7. Depth

Depth is the perceived distance between the background and the foreground in your images.

It’s the most compelling element of photography composition.

Because photography is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional scene, we have to carefully select our composition to create a sense of depth that makes viewers feel they could step into the scene.

On the other hand, pictures will be less than lifelike if it lacks depth.

Therefore you can see just how important creating depth in your images is.

depth composition

Man Seating in the Rail Way Near Body of Water

Depth is typically divided into a foreground, middle ground, and background.

  • The Foreground – The visual plane that appears nearest to the viewer
  • The Middleground – The visual plane between the foreground and the background
  • The Background – The visual plane furthest from the viewer

Four Methods to Create Depth

There are many ways to create a sense of depth in our images effectively.

1. Depth of Field. Creative use of depth of field is a very effective technique for adding a sense of depth to an image.

Using a wide aperture to create a blurry background and the foreground is quite helpful to add depth to the scene.

Depth of Field

Narrow depth of Field Photo of Microcontroller on Green PCB

2. Use leading lines. Create visual lines in your images that guide the viewer’s eyes towards the points of interest.

For example, meandering roads, paths, walkways, rivers, and outdoor stairs with tubular handrails and bridges are all subjects to create depth and space. 

leading lines

Bridge – Converging Lines

3. Include objects in the foreground, middle ground, and background. Having three areas in the image will help create a sense of realism and immersion. It also emphasizes the third-dimensional illusion of a photograph. 

depth foreground middleground background

Spikey Foreground – a Strong foreground, Middleground, and Background Add a Sense of Depth to the Scene

4. Overlapping. It means the compositional elements deliberately overlap to help create a sense of depth.

Undoubtedly, this method is the strongest way of creating a three-dimensional feel. This often happens when one object is closer to or in front of another.

Leaves placed overlapping

Leaves Placed Overlapping

Rules & Techniques Of Photography Composition

Having the correct elements for your image is only half of the journey to making a good photography composition.

Now the second half of the journey is where you combine compositional elements to create a harmonious combination of lines, shapes, colors, etc.

These are some basic rules and compositional techniques to help you arrange these interesting elements effectively. 

Following these photography composition rules and techniques in many cases, great photographers make their images look easy, even though their natural talent helped them along the way.

Keep in mind that there are no strict rules to follow when composing your photographs. Instead, they are gentle suggestions or guidelines for composing images to help you find your own artistic vision. 

Learn Eight Rules & Techniques Of Composition

The following seven basic rules and techniques for beginner photographers are an excellent place to start, though there are many more.

When you become an experienced photographer, you can use two or three rules I listed below in the same composition.

I’ll cover each of the basic rules and compositional techniques in detail.  

  1. Framing
  2. Leading lines
  3. Rule of thirds
  4. Symmetry
  5. Negative space
  6. Simplification
  7. Triangles
  8. The Golden Ratio/Golden Spiral 

1. Framing

Framing refers to arranging compositional elements deliberately to create a frame in your image. It’s one of the main basics of composition in photography and visual arts.

For example, you might shoot through windows, doors, or arches to draw attention to certain areas in your image.

Eyes With Frame

The Benefits of Framing

Framing is a very popular compositional technique that enhances the visual impact of your photograph.

The benefits of framing are a lot. It can: 

1. Attract attention to a particular area in your image. Framing starts with your subject. What part of your intentional subject would you like to emphasize?

Find the subject you want to frame. This could be

  • a person
  • bird
  • mountain
  • building, etc.

It’s up to you to choose what subject to be placed within the frame.

2. Add depth and dimension. Framing boosts the depth of your images, making your images look more three-dimensional.

Shooting through the interesting foreground elements gives a three-dimensional feel to your image and makes your pictures come alive. 

3. Add context around your subject. Undoubtedly, context is essential in photography. The subject, foreground, background, and light all matter.

Framing can create the context around the subject and tell the viewers the person’s surroundings or the place where it was made. It also adds a sense of location.

4. Add interest. Framing can make your pictures more interesting. It’s also a fast way to take your photography compositions to the next level.

Where to Place Frame

Framing is NOT limited to the edges of the images. You can fill your frame with small but important parts. 

No matter where you put your frame, ensure your main subject occupies space.

For example, you can place frames in the following positions: 

  • in the center of the image
  • alongside the image
  • just one, two, or three edges of the image
  • all four sides of the image

Framing is not absolute when composing photographs, and there are instances in which you create pleasing images without using framing. It is just one of the many compositional guidelines.

Types of Framing

There are three different types of framing you can apply to create depth, interest, context, etc.

1. Framed by nature. Nature offers many attractive natural frames.

Examples are

  • leafy branches
  • foliage
  • flowers
  • rock formations, etc.

They often bring more attention to your subject, directing the eye towards the specific areas in the scene. 

framed by nature

Norwegian Natural Frame

2. Framed by architecture. The architecture provides many interesting possibilities for framing:

  • doors
  • windows
  • arches
  • columns
  • tunnels
  • and bridges.

It usually provides a more solid and easier frame than frames created by nature.

Look for shapes:

  • rectangles
  • squares
  • triangles
  • and circles.

These openings and shapes can make the viewer’s eye go directly towards it.

framed by building

Building with Airplane

3. Framed by light and shadows. Using shadows to surround your subject is the most obvious way of framing because our eyes are drawn to the brightest part of an image.

Light and shadows can add dimension and depth to the image to make it more interesting.

Framed by light and shadows

Uses Light and Shadows to Frame Human Form in the City

Practically, framing is not an easy tool to master for beginner photographers.

However, the more you experiment with the framing elements, the more interesting photography composition you will make.

With enough practice, framing will soon become second nature to you.

2. Leading Lines

Leading lines refer to using lines like roads, and rivers purposely to direct the viewer’s eye to the intended subject, or focal point. It indicates the path where your viewer’s eye wanders naturally.

They can be actual lines or implied lines that don’t physically exist.

Using leading lines is one of the easiest and most effective ways to add

  • depth
  • interest
  • and balance

to your photographic composition. 

Seven Types of Leading Lines

There are seven types of leading lines that you can use in a photographic composition. 

  1. Horizontal Lines
  2. Vertical Lines
  3. Curved Lines
  4. Diagonal Lines
  5. Converging Lines
  6. Implied Lines
  7. Intersecting Lines

1. Horizontal Lines

Horizontal lines create a sense of calmness, tranquility, and peace.

They are often found in nature and landscape photography.

Uneven horizon line is unnatural for us to see, and causes a feeling of irritation to the viewer. Make sure to keep it as horizontal as possible when using them, 

horizontal leading lines

Single Tree

2. Vertical Lines

These lines suggest a sense of strength, power, and scale.

They are often found in

  • buildings
  • tall trees
  • pillars
  • and columns.

Vertical lines guide the viewer’s eye up or down in your image, creating a feeling of order and strength. They are less peaceful than horizontal lines.

Vertical Lines

Nature and Human –Vertical lines the viewer’s eye toward the man in the forest.

3. Curved Lines

Curved lines feel more natural, and relaxed than horizontal lines and vertical lines.

They can be found in nature like rivers and coastal lines.

They often direct the viewer on a winding journey, creating a feeling of flow in the scene.

Curved Lines

River Saar loop in Mettlach, Saarland, Germany

4. Diagonal Lines

Diagonal lines such as hills or mountains create a sense of movement.

Presenting these lines from foreground to background or from one corner(the bottom) to the other(the top) of the image adds depth to images. Plus, they convey a feeling of movement, and a sense of dynamic tension.

Diagonal Lines

Landscape – A Diagonal Line that Runs from One Corner to The Other

5. Converging Lines

Converging lines like stairways, power lines, edges of numerous buildings, and railroad tracks convey a sense of distance. Also, it adds flow or depth to your image.

When lines meet at a point, the viewer’s eyes naturally tend to focus on a specific point.

Converging lines are great for creating a stronger impact.

Converging Lines

Bridge with Converging Lines

6. Implied Lines

Implied lines don’t physically exist in the picture, but in which our minds must fill them in.

A good example of implied lines is a person looking in a direction.

Our mind will continue and naturally follow the non-existing lines to the specific area in the image, thus adding depth or interest.

Implied Lines

Adventurous Man on Top of Mountain

7. Intersecting Lines

Intersecting lines are two or more lines that share exactly one point.

You can use intersecting lines intentionally to create a feeling of tension and confusion.

However, without proper arrangement, they can completely ruin the flow of an image.

intersecting lines photography

Intersection

Identify the Leading Lines Yourself

Leading lines exist in both nature and cities. They can be either natural or artificial lines.

As a photographer, the first step is to identify them.

Look for

  • hard, straight lines
  • curved lines
  • winding lines
  • or even incomplete lines

in your city and nature. 

Man-made Lines:

  • roads
  • power lines
  • rooftops
  • fences
  • bricks
  • boardwalks
  • doorways
  • rows of windows
  • bridges
  • train tracks

Nature-Made Lines:

  • rivers
  • waterfalls
  • shorelines
  • sun rays
  • rows of trees
  • waves
  • dunes
  • tall grass
  • cliffs
  • rocks

Tips for Using Leading Lines

Once you’ve found the leading lines in your scene, you’ll need to decide how to use them to create an impactful image.

Follow these tips to improve your photographic compositions with leading lines.

1. Always ask yourself: where are the lines guiding me? Usually, the answer is the main subject in your frame or the point of interest you would like to highlight.

Sometimes the line is the subject itself. So it all depends on how you intentionally arrange them.

2. Use a single line or multiple lines. A single line or multiple lines can work; evaluate the area to see which one works better for you.

3. Take multiple shots from different angles. It makes sense to take a series of images and choose one with significant effects.

3. Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a common composition technique by placing the most important elements of the composition where the lines intersect.

It’s the most well-known composition technique for beginner photographers to improve the balance/structure of the pictures.

The rule of thirds features dividing an image into thirds horizontally and vertically, then placing the focal point of the scene along one or more of the horizon/horizontal lines or where the lines intersect.

This compositional guideline generally leads to better photographic compositions.

Use the Rule of Thirds For Composing Images

Imagine the scene divided into nine equal rectangles when composing a picture.

Think about the subject or point of interest, and try to place them near/at the intersections of the grid or close to the lines. 

1. Use the Rule of Thirds in Portraits Photography:

You align the subject’s eyes to the upper two intersection points in such a way to draw the viewer into the portrait, and create a natural and relaxed appearance. This tends to allow for more interesting images than simply centering the subject’s eyes.

Rule of Thirds in Portraits Photography

Woman Wearing Floral Shirt Grayscale Portrait

2. Use the Rule of Thirds in Landscape Photography:

This guideline for composing images helps us focus and contain our attention.

For instance, placing a mountain peak at the upper top intersections creates a point of interest. It also adds a sense of balance to the image. 

Rule of Thirds in Landscape Photography

Monument Valley Landscape

3. Use the Rule of Thirds in Architectural Photography:

Position the most important element at one of the intersecting lines rather than at the center of the frame. It’s a great way to create focal points.

For example, you may place the tower, the bridge, or the church at the intersection point to appeal to the human eye.

Rule of Thirds in architecture Photography

City Buildings

Breaking the Rule

Photography is a creative art to master. This means not every image needs or has used the rule of thirds.

You can still create intriguing images by breaking the rule if you establish your creativity and refine your artistic vision.

Below are three ideas for how you can break the rule successfully.

1. Center the subject. Placing your subject dead-center can better draw the viewer’s attention.

For example, positioning a big monument in the center of the square can highlight it. 

2. Shoot symmetrical flowers, buildings, trees, etc. If a subject is symmetrical, filling the frame to emphasize symmetry is better than applying the rule of thirds. You will get a more relaxing picture.

3. Create a sense of size. In some cases, centering your subject helps add a sense of space to your picture, while applying the rule of thirds doesn’t work.

For example, you may place the big statue in front of the museum in the center position, adding to the sense of size. 

Want to know more about the rule of thirds? The article “What Is the Rule of Thirds?” goes into quite a bit of detail about this composition guideline. Check the link for more of an explanation. 

4. Symmetry

Symmetry in photography is when both sides of an image mirror each other.

The use of symmetry in photography compositions is a great way to distribute the visual weight across the frame.

Because of this, symmetrical pictures are

  • clean
  • well-balanced
  • and harmonious

They usually stand out since they appear

  • neat
  • tidy
  • and well-structured

Four Types of Symmetry

Our lives are filled with symmetry. Think about

  • tree trunk
  • flowers
  • cars
  • airplanes
  • boats
  • ships
  • houses
  • and buildings.

Symmetry is in both natural and human-made architecture.

There are four main types of symmetry that you’ll find in your daily life:

  1. Vertical symmetry.
  2. Horizontal symmetry.
  3. Radial symmetry.
  4. Reflective symmetry.

1. Vertical symmetry.

Vertical symmetry means if you draw a vertical line down through the middle of the scene, both the parts are the same.

Vertical symmetry adds a sense of balance and harmony and is often used in architectural photography.

Vertical symmetry

Lotus temple in Delhi, India – a Good Composition Example Used Vertical Symmetry

2. Horizontal symmetry.

Horizontal symmetry occurs when you draw a horizontal line through the middle of the scene; the top and bottom of an image are the same.

A good example is that mountains are reflected in a lake.

Horizontal symmetry

Mountains Lake – a Good Composition Example Used Horizontal Symmetry

3. Radial symmetry.

Radial symmetry exists when an image is symmetrical around a central point or axis. Sometimes it’s hard to identify this type of symmetry.

The classic Examples are ripples and flowers. 

Radial symmetry

Yellow Flowers – a Good Composition Example Used Radial Symmetry

4. Reflective symmetry.

Reflective Symmetry is all about reflections. This is often associated with water and glass.

Keep in mind that a perfect reflection across a point or line of symmetry is not necessary for this type of symmetry.

Reflective symmetry

Reflection Of Trees On Water -a Good Composition Example Used Reflective Symmetry

Tips to Take Symmetry Photography

1. Look for symmetry in nature.

Symmetry is nature’s artwork. You can go for a walk in the forest or the mountain and take pictures of symmetrical objects.

Think of

  • leaves
  • twigs
  • stones
  • flowers
  • insects
  • spider webs
  • shells
  • snails
  • stems
  • birds
  • and animals.

You will find a lot when you’re out shooting.

2. Look for symmetry in architecture.

The symmetry in architecture often conveys a sense of stability, balance, and control.

A front door, a window, interiors, and facades could work well for creating symmetry pictures.

3. Use reflections.

Reflections in mirrors, windows, and water can be used creatively.

Once you’re aware of it, you’ll likely have the urge to look for symmetry in your environment and your surroundings.

5. Negative Space

Every picture is composed of negative and positive space.

For example, leaving space in front of the animal to create a sense of motion and space is a typical composition in wildlife photography

In short, negative space is the area around and between the main subject in your picture (the main subject is also called “positive space”).

negative and positive spaces are visually essential aspects of a picture’s composition. Without negative one, positive space won’t have any meaning.

Negative Space photography

Woman Sitting Alone in the Museum – a Good Composition Example Used Negative and Positive Space

Functions of Negative Space

Negative space is never blank or simply just a background of a picture.

It’s more complex than the background of a picture. It plays a vital role in photographic composition.

When used creatively, negative and positive spaces can work as a team to create a pleasing image.

Negative space has several important functions as below.

1. Highlights the main subject of a picture.

It naturally leads viewers towards what isn’t important in your image and places a stronger emphasis on the main subject. 

2. Provides “room” for viewers to breathe.

It gives the viewer’s eyes somewhere quiet to rest and prevents the positive space from appearing too “busy.” 

3. Adds a sense of balance to your picture.

It can significantly influence the balance of your picture. When used intelligently, it can provide a sense of balance.

4. Creates a sense of size.

The ratio of positive space to negative space is essential. Using a lot of negative space can convey a sense of size.

5. Adds context to your picture.

Context is important in photography. For example, if you’re out shooting portraits, more often than not, what’s around your subject plays a vital role in telling a good story.

Negative space can add context, so your eye will continually move through and around the picture, making your picture more interesting.

6. Conveys emotion.

In many cases, it can strengthen positive emotions, creates a mood, and conveys the story along with positive space.

Tips for Using Negative Space

1. Look for negative space in daily life.

For beginners, it could be hard to accept and enjoy negative space since we tend to pay more attention to the main subject (the positive space).

Start to feel for negative spaces by identifying them in everyday life.

Once you understand the visual impact of negative space, you can use negative space elements effectively to support your main subject.

It’s worth repeating that negative and positive spaces play equally important roles when composing a picture. So learn to embrace it.

With a bit of practice, it will soon become second nature.

2. Consider both negative and positive space.

Photography is also about balance. Every scene has a different ratio of negative space to positive space. Don’t think the space around your main subject doesn’t matter. It does.

3. Simplify the scene.

A perfect picture should only have a single idea and convey a complete story in many cases.

The smooth, less detailed negative space can simplify the scene, helping you focus on the point of interest in the picture. 

6. Simplification

Less is often more in photography.

Simplification means finding an ideal angle while removing the elements from the image that distracts, and drawing more attention to the main subject that you would like the viewer to focus on.

For example, in landscape photography, If you place elements in the scene too close to the edge of the frame, the elements don’t get much breathing space, which leads to sloppy or busy edges. 

Having sloppy or busy edges is distracting to the viewers. That’s why carefully composing your image and leaving extra space before shooting is important.

Furthermore, giving yourself a little extra space can simplify the scene while editing the image. 

However, learning how to simplify is NOT simple. As a beginner photographer, knowing what to reduce, but also what not to reduce is hard.

The best way to achieve simplification with a particular photograph is through continuous observation (train your eye and compose images in your mind) and consistent practice.

Taking a painting class and visiting art galleries are good ways to train your eye.

Simplification

Hills – a Good Composition Example Used Simplification

Four Ways to Simplify a Scene

How to simplify a scene when we’re out shooting? Simple.

Below are four excellent ways to help you to see things simply.

1. Change your position and perspective.

You can eliminate unnecessary compositional elements by changing your position and perspective.

Ask yourself: Are you looking down at the mountaintop? Or are you looking up through the window?

Or are you simply standing and shooting from eye level?

If you change the way you look at something, chances are you will remove unnecessary background elements.

2. Get in closer to the subject.

Getting in close to the subject allows the viewer to focus on the main subject. You can also zoom in closer to simplify your photographic composition.

3. Use shallow/Narrow depth of field.

Shallow depth of field (also called “small” or “narrow”) is a great way to

  • simplify a busy scene
  • reduce a cluttered background
  • and give visual weight to your subject.

It works very well when photographing portraits, and small subjects such as plants or flowers.

7. Triangles

The triangle is a classical rule of photographic composition technique.

It refers to triangular shapes or concepts to create a well-balanced, harmonious, and aesthetically pleasing image.

A well-balanced, harmonious image often showcases how different objects share similar characteristics, and everything just looks “right” and it “feels” right.

Triangles are everywhere around us. They can be found in nature, architecture, or artificial objects.

Triangles

Modern Building Facade – a Good Composition Example Used Triangle

The Functions of Triangles

Triangles are one of the most important photographic composition tools. They have several functions as below.

1. Creates a feeling of instability.

Triangle is the most stable structure. A point-up triangle represents strong stability.

In most instances, when photographers want to add a sense of stability, they usually use triangles. 

2. Creates a feeling of strength.

Triangles are very strong shapes, and visually energetic. It can add a feeling of strength to your image.

3. Guides the viewer’s eyes.

You can intentionally place the triangle’s lines diagonally in your image to guide the viewer’s eyes to the point of interest.

4. Adds interest to your picture.

Sometimes shooting can be tough when you have no inspiration. Try to use triangles, you may transform dull scenes into more interesting pictures. 

Common Triangle Types

1. The Symmetrical triangle.

They are very stable and intense. When used effectively, your image will have a more substantial visual appeal. 

2. Implied triangles.

They are common but not obvious. It can be challenging to identify them for a beginner photographer. They tend to be less stable than other types of triangles.

3. The Scalene Triangle. Scalene triangles have different lengths on three sides. They can add dynamic rhythms to your picture,  making them livelier and more attractive.

8. The Golden Ratio/Golden Spiral 

The golden ratio or golden spiral is a powerful composition tool to make pleasing and harmonious images.

The golden ratio/golden spiral refers to a principle of image division. The exact proportions specified by the golden ratio/golden spiral are 61.8 percent to 38.2 percent. People perceive this proportion as particularly harmonious.

Photographers use the golden ratio as a guide so that they know in which part of the picture you can arrange your point of interest best.

Many photographers use the golden ratio/golden spiral to find the ideal positioning for the most important element in the picture. 

For example, famous photographers like Irving Penn and Henri Cartier-Bresson have successfully used the golden ratio/golden spiral to achieve astonishing results. Studying these artists’ work in detail is a good way to train your eye to look at the golden ratio. 

The golden ratio/golden spiral is a more complicated version of the rule of thirds. The golden grid or phi grid divides your frame into nine fields, just like the rules of thirds.

However, rather than having nine equal fields like the rule of thirds, the lines on the golden grid/phi grid are moved slightly towards the center to align with the golden ratio. Still, the image is divided into thirds by both vertical grid lines and horizontal grid lines.

You can make the golden ratio by eye – just put the subject slightly offset from the center – this applies both horizontally and vertically.

Golden ration - photo of spiral white stairs

Golden Ratio – Photo of Spiral White Stairs, a Good Example of Composition Photography 

Two Questions About Photography Composition You Should Know

Although there can be many visual elements (lines, shapes, and many other compositional elements.) as well as composition techniques/rules (framing, leading lines, rule of thirds, negative space. etc.) to be considered to create aesthetically pleasing compositions, there are two fundamental decisions that you will have to make. They are:

  1. What do you want to say? (What is the message you want to convey to your viewers through your image?)
  2. How to say it? (How will you arrange the elements to convey your message effectively?)

Whether you’re a professional photographer or a novice photographer just starting, the simplest and the most complex photography composition you create must answer both of these questions. 

Since there are many composition guidelines or rules to follow, it’s easy to get lost in all the composition rules and principles.

When you’re struggling to find a direction in composition, you can always try to bring it back to these two basic questions.

Best Photographic Composition Tips

Composition can seem daunting to beginner photographers. You can easily get overwhelmed by lots of visual elements and composition rules.

Thankfully composition doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems.

These tips can help you start in the right direction.

1. Look for an optimum angle.

This is probably the most important tip for new photographers.

Before photographing your subject, take time to look for an optimum angle.

Different positions and perspectives will affect the story you want to tell.

Just keep moving around; change your position.

Don’t just shoot from eye level. Consider getting a higher vantage point or a lower viewpoint, taking a side step to the right or the left, shooting from the side, back, ground level, etc.

It’s all about finding the position where you can create an interesting picture you like.

2. Use a prime lens as a beginner.

As a beginner, you’ll probably wonder about prime and zoom Lenses – which lens is right for you?

Although professional photographers usually have both lenses, a prime lens is the first choice of new photographers. Why?

A prime lens lets you better understand a focal length than a zoom lens since it has only one focal length.

Furthermore, a prime lens will teach you to become more creative as it forces you to keep moving instead of changing the focal length at the exact location.

3. Find a point of interest.

Finding a point of interest is critical for your composition.

Without a strong point of interest, images look flat and dull.

A powerful point of interest grabs the viewer’s attention or holds their interest.

Take time to find a clear point of interest that makes for great images with careful compositions.

4. Shoot more.

A simple way of improving your composition technique is to shoot more pictures.

The more you shoot, the more comfortable you will become with photography and the better composition skills you can get.

Go out, walk around, look for stunning compositions in everyday life, experiment more, and shoot anything. It will soon become second nature.

5. Tell a story.

Storytelling is commonly overlooked by beginner photographers.

Photography has been used to tell many stories for a long time; from family travels around the world to the first day of your kid’s school.

Learn to

  • convey
  • mood
  • emotion
  • and feeling

to the viewer by telling a good story.

Conclusion

Capturing a good composition is NOT easy. Your artistic vision plays a major role in making a good composition, and it takes time and patience to develop your artistic vision. 

Photographic composition is critical for a beginner photographer. Although there is a lot of information to soak in, mastering composition won’t happen overnight. Regular practice is the best and only way to

  • improve composition techniques/skills
  • develop your own personal style
  • and create your artistic vision

Once you have a decent grasp of what has been discussed and incorporate them into your images, they will gradually become your intuitive, and your photography compositions will improve.

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