Composition Basics in Photography

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One of the most important things a photographer can carry in his bag is a firm understanding of the basic elements of photography. A picture is not just a piece of photo paper but the result of thousands of tiny variables coming together all at once. Understanding these different elements and how you can use them to take better images is critical to your success as a photographer. One of the most important elements of photography is composition.




Definition of Composition

Composition is the way in which the subjects of your photograph interact with one another. You can think of this primarily in terms of where each object in a photograph shows up in the frame. However, composition can be expanded on to reference elements such as focus, depth of field, and zoom.

Essentially, photographs with excellent composition tell a clear story, while photographs with bad composition have no real narrative and are thus less appealing. One easy way to see if a photo has poor composition is to see if it looks boring or contains nothing of interest.


Open Invitation       venice_by_annette_schreiber-2


Elements of Composition

There are a few helpful rules of composition that, once learned, have an amazing positive effect on the nature of your photographs. While these rules are by no means concrete, and in photography breaking rules is often more fun than following them, they should serve as a baseline for understanding composition’s impact on your shots.


The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is based on the artistic assumption that humans are naturally inclined to look at the point of an image that falls about two-thirds up from the bottom. If you picture a photo broken up into nine equal parts, you want your subject to be as close to one of the line intersections as possible. Whenever you shoot, imagine these lines across your frame and try to line the shots up accordingly.




Image Balance

While this isn’t an official “rule,” it is still a helpful thing to keep in mind when shooting. Position your subjects off-center and use the rule of thirds, but be careful about having too much unintentional space around the subject. Try to balance the important parts of an image with the less important parts like having the subject running to a destination instead of just a picture of the subject.


Side by Side


The Power of Lines

There is something about patterns of lines that naturally draws our eyes. Our minds are naturally drawn to following patterns and lines. You can use this to your photographic advantage. When lining up a shot, look for lines in the frame and ask yourself if they lead to important parts of your image. If the lines don’t do that, the viewer’s eyes will trace the lines only to be left unsatisfied that the lines lead to nowhere.


By the Sea       Flooded


The Power of Cropping

Sometimes what you leave out of your picture is as important as what you leave in. You should be cropping in your mind every time you line the camera up for a shot. Get rid of the extra stuff that distracts from the subject, and fill the frame with what you want to capture. You can fix poor cropping with software, but it is far better to develop a habit of cropping in-frame.


Composition is one of the elements of photography that takes years to master. Since composition is a combination of several different elements, it will present a constant challenge to even the most knowledgeable photographer.


Follow the basic rules until you understand how they work, then dare yourself to break them! 🙂

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