Photography Basics: Photography Composition

Composing a photograph is a skill that’s essential for taking great pictures. Without knowing the basics of photography composition, rare chances for a photo could be missed. Yet with the right basics, you should be able to use these principles take some fantastic images. We’ll run through what photography composition is, what the goal of using it is, and our top ten tips to help you out. Remember, these tips don’t all have to be used at once, and serve as a guideline for a variety of different shots.

What is Composition in Photography?

Elements in the Frame

The concept of composition relates to how the elements in your frame combine to create a particular effect or feeling. It’s about portraying the essence at the core of your goal. This arrangement can be done by either moving the elements yourself, or adjusting your angle, lens, or position to best capture what you’re shooting. It depends on the situation. For example, if you’re taking a portrait photograph, you can adjust your subject as much as you need. However, street photographers have to wait until their subject is in the right position. Landscape photographers have no choice but to adjust their own position to accommodate the vista they’re trying to capture.

Focus Points

One of the fundamentals of composition is to draw your viewers’ eyes towards particular points of interest in your photo. This can create a huge amount of impact, particularly if the eye is drawn to a series of points in succession. Doing this can make an image of something relatively simple impactful. However, failing to do this can render a spectacular subject or scene uninteresting or bland. It’s a tough line to walk, but with some practice you’ll be able to train your eye to see how this works. Don’t forget you can also crop an image to improve composition; however this is dependent on having a half-decent shot in the first place. Take your time to think about composition before taking your shot.

Camera Settings

There are many factors surrounding your camera that can alter the composition of a photograph. The lens, aperture, angle, and light can all make a difference to a shot. Using a wide-angle lens gives you a lot of scope for a composition, whereas a narrower field of vision means every element must count. Aperture will affect the background blur of your image; a wider aperture means a softer and more out of focus background. This can mean that elements in the background have less impact. On the other hand, a narrower aperture will bring more elements into sharp focus. Try experimenting with this to see how these differences affect your final results.

The Goal of Composition

It’s hard to specify one exact goal of composition. For some, it’s showing their subject in the most flattering light. For others, it’s portraying natural beauty and wonder. However, sometimes composition is about showing the gritty realism of the world. Juxtaposition can be a great way of creating an image that is shocking or powerful. This applies to all sorts of instances seen throughout the world. Essentially, the goal of composition lies both with the photographer and the viewer. Do you want to create something thought-provoking, beautiful, or shocking? And does the viewer seek to find those things within your work? Composition is about technique, but it’s also about knowing how you want to express yourself.Top 10 Photography Composition Rules

As we’ve mentioned already, there are no exact rules you must follow to take a great photo. However, there are certainly some suggestions that can help improve composition and the final result. Below are some of our top tips:

1. The Rule of Thirds

This is one of the rules you may have heard of already. It’s a way of bringing balance and focus to your photos. Essentially, imagine that your frame is split into 9 equal segments, intersected by two horizontal and vertical lines. You should aim to position the subject of your photos in one of these ‘thirds’ along the lines. You may find that your camera already gives you a grid that shows this effect, making it easier to position your photo.

2. Balance Your Composition

Although you want to place your main focus in one of the ‘thirds’ of the image, this may leave large parts of your frame empty. Try and balance your composition by including lesser elements of focus in these blank areas. Be aware not to over-fill the frame though.

3. Lead the Eyes

We’ve mentioned this already, but try and draw the eye to particular points in your photo. To do this, use leading lines. These are the parts of your composition that create lines the eyes naturally follow. They could be landmarks, objects, or light.

4. Look for Symmetry

People are naturally drawn to patterns and symmetry. Therefore, look for these in your frame. Both nature and man-made objects adhere to the rules of symmetry, and patterns can appear in more places than you’d initially think. Breaking with the natural or expected symmetry is a great way to create impact and draw the eye.

5. Change Your View

Although capturing your subject head on from eye-level can definitely produce good results. However, changing the viewpoint can create a wide range of effects. Don’t be afraid to get up high or down low to alter the angle and impact of your composition.

6. Beware of Backgrounds

When composing your image, be sure to focus on more than just what’s going on in the foreground. The background of your image can create a lot of different effects. It can make your subject stand out for a striking effect, but it can also distract from the main focus. Be sure that there are no unwanted or distracting elements in your shots.

7. Depth of Field

Some shots, like portraits, can benefit from a shallow depth of field. A blurred background can create a nice soft contrast to the sharp subject. However, in landscape photography, creating depth is important to give a sense of scale. Use foreground elements to create a wider depth of field and capture the drama of a landscape.

8. Find your Frame

Inside the frame of your sensors, there are many things you can use to frame your subject. Nature is full of frames; mountains and trees are particularly great at framing objects. However there are plenty of instances you can find, and this links back to the idea of symmetry.

9. Try Cropping

If your subject is very small, it can sometimes get lost in the background noise. By cropping your photo to focus just on the small subject, you can make it stand out far more than it previously did. It can draw the attention straight to the focus point.

10. Experiment

All of the rules we’ve mentioned so far will take time to perfect. Don’t be scared to experiment with your shots. With modern memory cards you can take as many photos as you like without any additional cost. Don’t be afraid to break the rules we’ve laid out here, some of the best photographers break convention to create spectacular and breathtaking results.


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