Basic Guide To Photo Composition is a funny old thing; it’s common knowledge that learning composition will help your photography but it’s also something you should never pay too much consideration too.
I always feel that it’s best to teach people composition from the angle where it’s an exercise intended to train the person’s eyes to see a potential photo in a different way. You should never blindly follow the ‘rules’; use your new knowledge to shape your photos into something much more pleasing to the eye.
Rule of Thirds
This is probably the first compositional rule that any photographer comes across and for a very good reason: it’s simple and it works.
The basic premise is that you divide your camera’s frame into thirds and plant key objects along these lines to make the composition work better. This often works really well and, if you’ve not learnt much about photography yet, is a great way of dramatically improving your photos, making them more interesting.
The idea is that the viewer gets to see more than just the subject; they are encouraged to freely explore the photo themselves.
There are many more basic elements of composition to study but this is a great starting point for trying out and getting to grips with composition.
Visual weight is different to size or weight as we know it and is largely down to elements such as human eyes and writing within a photo.
With an understanding of visual weight, you’ll start to understand how people look at photos and how you can position certain elements in a frame to direct the viewers attention. It’s not so much a tool or rule but an understanding.
Balance in a photo affects how we feel when we look at it: an unbalanced photo can make us feel uneasy; a balanced photo will make us feel more relaxed.
It really doesn’t matter whether you choose to make the photo balanced or unbalanced but you should understand why you’ve chosen to do so and have reasons to justify this choice. Again, it’s one of those situations where, the more you know, the easier it will be to produce the desired effect.
If you take photos of people, you’re taking photos with eye lines; it’s important to understand the affect that these have on how we view photos.
Eye-lines have the ability to focus our attention on another part of the photo, as well as producing tension and other photographic elements. Although they’re not physical lines, they can be used as such to produce different elements like triangles and vertical lines.
Speaking of triangles, lets have a look at them.
Triangles exist in almost everything we see in one way or another, it’s just a case of distinguishing them and knowing what to do with them.
Triangles make great compositional tools as they’re easy to make and manipulate, and are remarkably common. They provide a a great way to combine different compositional techniques, such as lines and paths, used to create a more interesting photograph. The best thing about triangles is their ability to make a photo feel stable or unstable.
The majority of your photos will have three distinguishable points of interest, it’s just a case of identifying these and linking them together in a way that makes sense.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should really look at what a single point does to a photo; there’s actually much more to it than meets the eye.
When you’re working with a single point of interest in a photo, you’re looking at one of the most basic forms of composition available; quite a common occurrence. It pays to know what to do with it.
A single point can provide interest to an otherwise plain photo. They’re usually fairly small and contrasting to the rest of the image. A photo doesn’t need to haveany points of interest to be successful though.
When a frame is divided by a single, dominant line, this line is usually a horizon; they’re fairly common in outdoor photography, particularly landscapes.
If the photo is of nothing particularly interesting, this line will become the dominant part of the photo due to the way in which it separates the frame. Exactlywhere you place the horizon can have a huge affect on the image – which part of the photo is the most interesting and how do you want to make your viewer feel with the divide?
Frame Within a Frame
Frames are a great photographic element that can be use to lead the viewers eyes into the frame, focusing them on a particular point. Frames provide a sense of repetition, depth and a path for the eyes to explore.
A photo of a scene with a foreground feature makes for a much more interesting build up to the main part of a photo and can, in some cases, carry equal weight to the rest of the photo.
Dynamic tension is a way of using the energy and movement available in the frame to draw the viewer’s eyes out of the picture in contrasting directions.
We’ve already looked at a variety of different lines that you can use in a photo to make it more interesting. Dynamic tension takes these lines and adds varying degrees of contrast between them, making them much more interesting.
The simplest and most obvious photo that I have that demonstrated dynamic tension in is the one below – the lines move outwards from the center of the photo to the edges.
This is where composition can start to get a little more advanced but tends to lead to more interesting photography.
Take the knowledge that you’ve already learned and use it to create photos with more depth.
When we take a photo with our cameras, we are turning a 3D image into just 2D. This can cause problems when trying to demonstrate the depth in a scene. This has advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you’re trying to convey with your photo but, ultimately, holds you back when you’re trying to add depth to a photo.