Aug 13 2008
Here’s my first comprehensive article part of my Intro to Photography category. This article on the introduction to photography composition is actually a brief summary that’s part of my workshop called: “Introduction to Photography”.
Creating a beautiful photograph isn’t as difficult as one might think. Some people can instinctively compose their images without any knowledge of photography composition rules. Others might need a little help and think things through before it becomes second nature.
We’ll look at some basic composition techniques that will dramatically improve your images. By applying one or many of the following rules, your photos will go from looking amateurish to professional. You will also understand why some of the previous images you took work so well and why you and other people like them so much.
Before we get started, let me point out that these rules are only guides to help you create beautiful images. You can apply more than one rule in your photos…. or none at all! Remember that rules are made to be broken… sometimes.
Here are the photography composition rules what we’ll look at in this article:
– The Rule of Thirds – Simplicity – Leading Lines – The Natural Frame – Contrasts – Point of View – Rhythm
The Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is probably the most popular rule out there. It’s based on the Golden Mean (or golden ratio). Simply put, you draw 2 imaginary lines (both horizontal and vertical) at equal distances from each other essentially dividing your image into thirds, hence the rule of thirds. Basically, the rule is based on the theory that the eye is naturally drawn to those “thirds” and the points at each intersecting line.Here is an example:
As a rule, you should use these lines to guide you in composing a photograph that may have horizontal or vertical lines. A good example of this are landscape photographs. Most landscape photos will have a horizon (horizontal line). Try to compose your image without placing your horizon in the middle of your image but instead on either the top or bottom third as shown here.
Here is an example using it on a vertical line.
You’ll also be using the rule of thirds at the points where the lines intersect with each other as seen here:
This applies very well for portraits or when you have a clear distinctive subject. Here are a few examples.
Even before the rule of thirds, I personally think that simplicity should be the first thing you think about when composing a photograph. Try to keep you image “clutter free”. Remember that you want to draw your viewer to the main subject of the photo as quickly and instinctively as possible. Here are 2 tips to help simplify your composition.
1- Get in close. To easily remove some of the distractions around your subject is to zoom in on it. Once you think your close enough, zoom in even more! This is a simple yet very effective way to simplify your image. Here’s an example.
2- Simplify your background. You don’t always want to get in really close to compose your image so the next thing to do is to remove the “clutter” from your background so that the eye isn’t distracted away from your main subject. You can do this with 2 different approaches. The first one is to choose an even background. This could be a single-colored piece of fabric or paper or an even-textured surface like a brick wall.
There are many reasons why we can use leading lines in our composition. Let’s look at the 3 major ones.
1- Creating Depth. Using leading lines like a road or a path for example, can add a 3D effect to an otherwise 2D image. It will create the illusion of depth like in this image of a road in Western Canada.
2- Focus on the Subject. You can use leading lines in your image to lead the viewer towards your main subject; basically guiding the eye to the focus of your image.
3- More Dynamic. Leading lines also make your images more dynamic. Usually, that will be achieved with diagonal lines like the image above or this one of my “Mafioso Birds”.
The Natural Frame
You can also use an element inside your frame to act as a frame. To be considered a frame, the general consensus is the the framing element should cover at least 2 sides of the photo. It could be on either sides or in a L or U shape. It could be be almost anything. Most commonly used are trees or window frames.
The natural frame will bring depth to the photo as well as bring emphasis on your main subject.Here’ example.
If you want to make your main subject sand out, it needs to be different from the rest of the image. It can be different in many ways. Most commonly, you’ll find a lightness/darkness contrast and/or strong color contrasts. To help with lightness/darkness contrasts, you could convert your file into black and white or a single color. As for color contrasts, complementary colors work really well. Here is an example.
Contrasting subjects could also fit in this category, This is more of a psychological contrast than a purely visual one.
Point of View
A very important technique in composition is your point of view. Where are you taking your photos from? As human beings, we’re lazy by nature and this laziness also transposes in the way we take pictures. Most of us will be standing up and all we’ll do is rotate or bend our knees a little. Now if everybody does that, do you think your image, taken the same way, will stand out? You reduce your chances greatly. Take the time to observe your subject or your subject’s entourage.
Here are the 3 most common points of view for you to try.
1- From Above. Get as high as you can over your subject. Look at it from above. If you can’t get above it, bring it down. Use what you have around you like a ladder, a chair or even your rooftop. In this image, I was standing on a pik-nik table.
2- From Below. Now do the opposite. Look at your subject from below (if possible) or put it up high above you. If you’re fast enough, you could even throw it in the air above you (do not use heavy or sharp objects ;)). The first image shows a typical shot of the spider sculpture and the second one is taken underneath it at dusk.
3- At Subject’s Level. So you’re shooting this cute docile chipmunk in the park. Yes you could do a shot from above but do you think that’s original? How about getting eye to eye with your furry friend? Yes, that takes a small effort and you might get dirty a bit but you’ll see, it’s worth it!
This is the last composition technique we’ll look at in this photography tutorial. Rhythm is basically a repetition of a subject. This technique is used to create a dynamic impact in your image. The eye will follow the repeated subject throughout the photograph. Here’s an example.
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