Photography Composition Techniques You Need To Know
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
- Ansel Adams
Photography is something that is created with imagination and skills and expresses strong emotions and feelings. To quote American photographer Ansel Adams, “There are no rules for good photographs. There are only good photographs”. Photography is an art form and there are no fixed rules in photography but there are a number of established composition guidelines that will help you take more compelling photographs. Compositions techniques help you sharpen your skills and help you capture the perfect picture.
But what is composition and why is it important?
Before we move to different composition techniques, understanding the concept of composition is important. Composition refers to the way different visual elements and objects are arranged within the frame. It is one of the most important components of photography. The composition requires a good balance and has just enough details. It guides the viewer’s eyes to the main subject within the frame. It helps the viewers to drive the story behind your image and grabs their attention. A good composition is pleasing to the eyes and helps you tell a better story.
Here are some photography composition techniques that will help you create a stronger image.
Rule Of Thirds
It is one of the most basic techniques of photography. We naturally tend to place our subject in the center but the Rules of Thirds is about placing the subject of the image slightly off the side. It refers to dividing your image into 9 equal sections by making 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines, making a 3x3 grid, and placing the important subjects of the picture on one of the intersection points. Doing it will add balance to the picture and lead to a more attractive composition. Trying this technique a few times will get you off your habit of centering the subject by default. Most of the cameras have this feature to display the grid on the screen, making it easier to use.
Source- onsuttonplace | Pinterest
Including lines in your picture is a great way to bring attention to important elements in your picture. Our eyes are naturally drawn to lines and thus including them is a great way to guide the viewer’s eye through the image. There are different types of lines like diagonal, curvy, Zig-zag, radial, etc, and leading lines refer to using such natural patterns, shapes, and lines to guide the viewer towards the main subject of the picture. Start looking for rivers, train tracks, roads, doorways, bridges, etc. Once you get into the habit of looking for them, you’ll find out they are everywhere around you.
Symmetry & Patterns
Symmetry & Patterns are both natural and man-made and we are surrounded by them. A symmetrical image is something that will look the same on both sides- either horizontal or vertical. Whereas a pattern means having repetitive lines, colors, and shapes. A picture having symmetry in it should have a focal point at the end of the shot to guide the picture to a single point. A good composition should introduce tension or a focal point by breaking the pattern or symmetry. Human beings are attracted to patterns and incorporating them in your picture is a good way to create a pleasing composition. Patterns bring a sense of harmony and visual rhythm in photography. Emphasize patterns by isolating them from their surroundings, by doing so it will make the pattern pop.
Fill the Frame
One of the composition techniques is to fill the frame with your subject. By filling the frame you create a more detailed picture as there are no distractions and draws the viewer’s eye directly to the subject. You only capture a fraction of what your eyes see and so you need to be careful about what to include within the edges of the picture. This works well when you’re trying to capture something more intimate and focused like portraits. You need to get really close to the subject while eliminating a few elements of the subjects.
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”.
- Robert Capa
The Golden Ratio is based on the concept of the Fibonacci sequence, who designed a series of numbers in the 12th century to get the perfect design and pleasing art composition. It helps to lead the viewer through the entire photo. It is a design principle based on the ratio of 1 to 1.618. Golden Ratio results in a perfectly balanced and harmonized composition. There are different ways of using the Golden Ratio in photography. The Fibonacci Spiral is one of the most common ones.
The Fibonacci Spiral
In the 12th century, Mathematician Fibonacci invented a series of numbers to get the best artistic composition. This composition is called the Fibonacci Spiral, with the length of each square being a Fibonacci number. Imagine placing the squares within a frame. The Fibonacci Spiral is created by drawing circular arcs from opposite corners of each square and you will end up with a curve resembling the shape of a spiral of a nautilus seashell. The viewer’s eyes naturally lead through the image if the most important elements of the picture are placed in the smallest portion of the spiral.
Source- Photograph By- Ansel Adams | Photographyhero.com
The Golden Triangle works well with composing subjects and frames that have more of a diagonal shape. It states that the main subject should describe the shape of a triangle to create a harmonious and compelling image. The Golden Triangle works in a similar way to the Rules of Thirds, only here we use triangles instead of boxes. Here we divide the frame with a diagonal line going from one corner to the other. From the remaining two corners we draw a line up to the diagonal line, that intersects at right angles. You will have your Golden Triangle composition in your frame.
Source- Brent Mail Photography
Photography is a two-dimensional medium so you can convey depth in your frame by including elements in your foreground, middle, and background at once in your composition. Be careful how you place the elements as they should complement each other. Highlight your frame depth by including attractive subjects at varying distances from the camera. For example, by including a field in the foreground or a river/water reflection in the middle ground can make a more appealing composition.
By using frames, you guide the viewer’s eye directly to the subject. It helps you create depth and get rid of unwanted items in the frame. There are natural frames like trees, bridges, archways, doorways, etc. Including natural frames inside your image can create interesting and attractive pictures. By using the frame in our picture, you isolate the subject, thus emphasizing the importance of your main subject.
Source- Yasuhiro Ishimoto - Katsura Villa Portfolio | Widewalls
Negative Space is the area that is left unoccupied in the frame. It’s the space that surrounds the main subject that helps define the positive space/main focus. Positive space is the main subject of the frame. By using negative space in your composition you can create a dramatic effect in your image. It creates a sense of simplicity and minimalism in the overall composition. It creates an image without any distractions and catches a viewer’s attention.
Source- Hongkiat.com | Pinterest
Rule of Odds
The rule suggests that an odd number will create a more visually appealing composition when including a group of subjects. When subjects in your frame are placed in pairs or even numbers, the human brain tends to organize them in pairs and make the composition appear dull. Whereas the odd numbers of elements are seen more naturally to the eyes. It gives you a focal point to focus on the middle subject with the two supporting elements in the frame.
For pointer lovers out there, here are some quick tips for creating an impressive composition
Well-Balance- Make sure the elements in the frame are balancing and work well together.
Viewpoint- Challenge yourself to change your usual viewpoint to capture a frame. Rather than shooting from an eye-angle, try shooting from high above, from the side, from the back, and so on.
Background- Find a background that’s not very obstructive. Compose your shot in an uncomplicated or simple background so that it doesn’t distract the viewer from the subject.
Simplicity & Minimalism- simplicity can be a powerful compositional tool. The secondary subject in the frame shouldn’t take the attention from the main subject. Know your focus or point of interest.
Golden Hour- The quality of the light is so good that it’s the best time to capture nature at its best. The best time is an hour before or after sunrise and sunset.
Single-subject- At times you capture a compelling landscape composition only when you have a single lonely subject in your frame. Such subjects stand out in your image.
Focus- Magnify and focus. Emphasize your subject. Make it the focal point of your image.
Color Theory- Be familiar with Color schemes/color wheel. Look for scenes that include complementary colors to capture an appealing and attractive composition. For example, blue and orange, and purple and yellow.
Juxtaposition- It means including two or more elements in the frame that either complement or contrast each other. This technique lets your picture tell a story.
So the next time you go out, try to add two or three of these techniques in your picture. Understand these guidelines to have a better understanding of a compelling composition and create stronger images.