When it comes to photography, there are no unbreakable rules. You can always use the power of your imagination to bring something unique, something that has never been seen before. However, if you are a beginner, there are numerous guidelines you can use to enhance the composition of your images.
By composition, we mean arranging different elements in a scene within the frame. A decent composition can significantly raise the level of photography and guide viewers’ eyes to specific elements that convey something meaningful.
Developing an eye for good composition can take some time and experience, but there are lots of techniques and tools available online that can help you along the way. Below, we have listed some of the best composition guidelines and techniques that will increase your productivity and hone your skills.
9. Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds guideline proposes that a picture should be imagined as divided into 9 equal parts by 4 equally spaced vertical and horizontal lines (2 each).
The 3*3 grid makes the off-center composition more pleasing to the eye. The concept is to make a photo look more natural than one where the item is located right in the center. Also, it inspires you to utilize negative space (void region around the focusing item) effectively.
Mirroring the composition using symmetry is a great way to create images that look balanced. Typically, you can use symmetry across an imaginary centered line, which could be either horizontal, vertical or even diagonal.
Architectural scenes and images containing reflections provide a great opportunity to use symmetry in compositions. They look phenomenal in square frames too.
7. Frames Within Frames
Frame within frames can be used to portray depth in an image. It could be a man-made frame like arch, window or doorway, or a natural frame such as an overhanging tree branch.
The frame doesn’t necessarily have to surround the entire image, bordering a significant portion is enough to make it look good. When viewers look at the scene, they should feel like they’re looking through a frame, which provides an illusion of depth.
6. Triangles and Diagonal Lines
Generally speaking, horizontal and vertical lines imply stability, whereas diagonal lines and triangles look less stable and can be used to create a sense of ‘dynamic tension’.
The triangles we are talking about can either be actual triangle-shaped objects or implied triangles. Whereas diagonals heading in different directions add significant ‘dynamic tension’ to the scene and make it look more unique.
Admittedly there is a certain amount of subjectivity to this composition technique and it can be difficult to master, but it’s worth keeping in mind while composing pictures.
5. Fill the Frame
As the name suggests, this technique involves filling the entire frame with the subject. Rather than focusing on multiple elements in the scene, it emphasizes on only one subject. This type of technique can be used when you want to draw viewers’ attention towards the details of the focusing subject.
Usually, filling the frames involves getting in so close that you actually need to crop out additional components of the subject. Despite the fact that this technique can only be used in certain situations, it can help you create interesting and original compositions.
Image credit: Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos / France / 1987
One of the most crucial aspects in a photography is if it “reads” well. Can viewer see all elements in the scene and tell what’s going on?
The figure-to-ground composition represents a strong contrast between the subject and background. It’s a form of perceptual grouping necessary to recognize objects through vision. For instance, having a dark subject on a light background or vice versa.
The image you see above is a dog with jet-black silhouette and pointy ears that are mirrored in small triangles in the light background, which creates an interesting pattern of shapes. The image wouldn’t have been equally appealing if it had a white dog.
3. Patterns and Repetitions
Image credit: J.L Lopez
We all are attracted to patterns. Patterns can be natural like petals on a flower, or man-made like a sequence of arches. If you’re incorporating patterns in photography, you need to keep a couple of techniques in mind – you can either break it or emphasize it.
By emphasizing the pattern, we mean filling the frame with a repetitive pattern, which gives the impression of large number and size. The idea is to get close enough to the pattern so it fills the frame and makes it seem like it is bursting out of the picture.
Sometimes, you need to break the patterns to slightly manipulate the situation. This involves adding colored or textured objects, or eliminating the repeating ones.
2. Eye Placement in Portraits
Let me present you an interesting fact: most artists always place one eye of the subject at the horizontal center. The trend has been going on for more than 5 centuries, but no one knows the exact reason behind this.
This clever composition creates an impression that the face is placed symmetrically in the frame. When you draw a vertical line through the image, it becomes clears that one eye is exactly placed at a point halfway between right and left sides of the frame.
The sense of minimalism and simplicity could be a powerful compositional tool. Although the rule is to keep it simple, it does not mean it needs to be uninteresting or boring. Try to pick engaging and striking stuff that will catch the eye.
“Less is more”: You may have heard this phrase many times. In photography, it means making pictures as uncomplicated as possible, and using minimum amounts of components like shape, color, line, and texture. This is usually done by zooming in on a specific portion of a scene and focusing on particular details.
One more thing, always try to tell a story through your photos. I know it’s hard to convey an event or scene using fewer components, but next time you are out shooting a scene, incorporate some interest from people, light or movement, you might surprise yourself.
Bottom Line: Try using these composition techniques in conjunction with one another, and observe how they work together. To be more productive, we recommend you to use a good picture editor. The more your practice, the better you get.