I love photography. It is such a fun way to express myself and create art.
Photography can be abstract and expressive or it can be literal and tangible.
You are trying to catch someone’s attention or express an idea. It can be still life like flat lay photography or it can be lifestyle photography.
One way to express yourself in photography is through composition.
What is Composition?
Composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements of a photograph to make it more appealing or interesting for the viewer.
Why is it Important?
Good composition can take a boring photograph and make it amazing. It draws the readers eye and attention to the mood and emotion you are trying to express with your photo.
What are the Rules of Composition?
1. Rule of Thirds
This is the most popular composition rule in photography. Basically, you divide your viewfinder into 9 equal squares. Then you put the most important part of your image in the intersection of those lines. This keeps the subject out of the middle of the photo and makes it more visually appealing for the eye.This is what the rule of thirds grid looks like. You want to align your subject where the lines intersect.
2. Leading Lines
There are lines all around us. We can use those lines (buildings, roads, etc) to lead the eye through the photograph in a very appealing way.In this photo, the lines of the walkway lead to my family (my boys are way taller now!) These tall trees lead your eye right up to the blue sky.
3. Different Perspective
When you are first starting out, you are usually taking a photo straight on as you see it with your camera.
To shake things up, you should try a different perspective. This means you should shoot from low or high to mix up the view and see things you hadn’t seen before.
In this photo, I walked all the way around this arch before I found the perspective I wanted. I am also shooting from low so I can get the arch and background in the shot.
To take this shot, I got low so I could see the spray cans in the foreground. That made the composition more interesting.
4. Clean Background
When you are looking through the viewfinder to take a picture, you should look in the background to see if there is anything distracting you should take away. This means you may have to move a subject because a tree is coming out of their head.
You should also check the corners of the photo to see if there are things that are peeking in that shouldn’t be. These distractions are easier to fix in the moment than later in Photoshop.
In the picture above, I waited for a man and his dog to walk across the bridge and out of view before I took it so they wouldn’t be distracting.
Whether it is a face or a building or whatever, if you make things even on both sides of the photo, it can add a graphic dimension to the photograph.
In the photo above, if you folded the photo in half, it would look the same on both sides (minus the crane). This is symmetry.
Patterns make a photo look interesting. Even a break in a pattern can draw the eye and make the viewer think.
For this shot of Cadillac Ranch, I used the pattern of the cars to make the photo better.
In this fall leaves photo, the lone red leaf stands out as a break of the pattern.
7. Odd Numbers
If you are grouping items in your photo by number, an odd number is usually more visually interesting then an even number. In this stock photo above, three crosses make a great subject for this awesome night sky.
If you can use something in the photo to frame your subject, it becomes more interesting. This could be a bridge, building, or anything that keeps your subject enclosed.
You can get very creative with frames, and once you learn how to see them you will keep finding them everywhere. In the above photo, the water and little boat are framed by the cliffs and rocks.
9. Depth of Field
You can use a shallow depth of field to frame and draw out your subject in a photo. While they might blend in if the whole photo is in focus, by blurring the background you bring your subject into the spotlight.
The leaves on this tree stand out from the background because of the shallow depth of field.
I used shallow depth of field in the picture above to pull out the squirrel from the leaves of the tree.
To learn about aperture and how it affects Depth of Field, read this blog post —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Aperture Basics.
10. Close Crop
Depending on what you are shooting, you may decide to shoot a wide, all encompassing shot or a close up intimate shot. By cropping in closer, you make you subject the main focus. This can make for a more interesting composition.
This is the full view of the front of the tractor. I am already fairly close, because you can’t see the whole tractor.
But when you get even closer, you can see the details of the tractor that make for a better photo.
11. S curve
Just like in leading lines, using a S curve can increase the strength of your composition. Common S curves are streets, rivers and clothing. In the photo above, the gravel road leads your eye through the aspen forest.
You can use shapes in your photographs to increase drama and strengthen your composition. Circles, ovals, squares and triangles are the most popular, but any shape will do.
In the stock image above, the circle composition is strong because they chose to use almost all circles (except the spoon) which makes the photo better.
There is just something about reflections that draws the eye into a photograph. Whether it is a lake, a puddle, or a mirror; refections make for a more interesting picture. I love this image I took of the reflections of the cows and the mountains in an alpine lake.
Rules Are Made To Be Broken:
As with most rules, they can be broken. These rules of composition will help you get more interesting compositions in your photos. But you don’t have to follow them to have great pictures. Use them as a guideline and then do what you think is best for your photos.
- Read through the explanations and look at the examples of each rule of composition.
- Choose a couple of rules that you haven’t used before.
- Get out and shoot, trying to add these elements of composition to strengthen your photos.
Photography can be a confusing skill to learn: shoot manual, have good light, good composition and bring it all together before you press the shutter button. It can make you crazy, right?
Well, at first it can be overwhelming. But if you intentionally try to master one part of it at a time, it will become easier. Pretty soon, you won’t be sweating the small stuff and you can enjoy photography as a relaxing hobby that will stretch your creativity.
Top 10 Photography Composition Rules @ Photography Mad
The Golden Ratio in Photography @ Icon Photography School
Divine Composition with Fibonacci’s Ratio @ Digital Photography School
What is your favorite rule of composition? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!
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