The Definitive Guide to Photography Composition

Sunset, rule of third, composition

You have mastered the basics of photography, familiarized yourself with exposure settings, and mastered basic camera settings. You are even shooting RAW pictures in manual mode. However, your images are still missing that pro-touch of pictures you see in online galleries.

What am I not doing right? You may ask. The simple answer lies down to your photo’s composition and lighting.

Talking about composition, it is one of the most vital aspects of photography. Whether you are starting out on macro photography or wedding photography, you need to master composition techniques.

Composition is where all the creativity and fun in photography comes into play. It can set you apart from the crowd and introduce your sense of individuality in your images. In other words, this is where all magic happens.

Before we dwell into composition techniques you need to master, let’s define this term.

What Is Composition In Photography?

The term 'composition' applies not only to visuals but also to dance, music, literature, and different arts. It can be described as the placement of relative elements and objects in any kind of art.

In photography, composition is how all the individual subjects within a frame combine to make the final image complete. You can alter the composition of an image by moving elements around, changing lenses, zooming in or out, etc.

The possibilities regarding composition are endless, and even a slight tweak can bring a huge difference to your final photograph. We will talk about the most common tweaks you can make in composition to improve your photography.

4 Aspects of Composition You Need to Master

Movement of Viewers Eye around the Photograph

Hand watering plants

Canon EOS 700D, f1.8, 1/1000

The first thing you need to think about before taking a shot is how the viewer's eye react to that scene. From top to bottom, right to left, how will a person view your shot?

What you want is their eye to flow around the photo, and ideally, concentrate on what is captured within the frame. The moment your viewer's eye starts to be drawn outside the frame, then you have lost their attention, and thus your shot will lack meaning.

One of the best techniques you can use to try and keep your viewer’s attention within the frame is to take away any distractions from your primary subject(s). This way, you will leave your subject as the center of attention. If you couldn’t remove them from the onset, you can remove them during post-processing.

Patrol the Borders

Yes, photography needs border patrol, in that you need to confirm that there are no unwanted subjects appearing on your borders as they can act as distractions, especially when you don’t want to blur the background.

This means any stray tree branches, bright sky on the top corners of an image, disembodied hand floating from one edge, or half a rock that was not meant to be in the shot can distract the viewer from focusing on the main object.

All these are border invaders and will eventually cause unwanted distractions, especially because they are close to the edge of your photo. They are likely to inevitably lead the viewer outside the frame. Remember the first thing we said- ensure your viewer’s eye doesn’t move outside the frame- you don’t want that to happen.

Rule of Thirds

Big Tree black and white photo, rule of third

The rule of thirds is ingrained in photography, and no composition list can end without a mention of this rule. While it is not something you should abide by 100 percent all the time, it is a perfect framework when you are starting out.

Normally, your image in a frame is divided into nine equal rectangles when a grid is overlaid on it. The important aspects of your shot should be at the intersection of the gridlines.

The idea is to have an off-center composition as it looks more natural and more pleasing to the eye than when a subject is placed right at the center of the frame. This also encourages you to creatively use the empty areas around your subject (negative space).

How do you use the rule of thirds to improve composition? Just imagine that the scene you are framing in a photo is divided into nine equal rectangles. Think about the important elements of the photo you want to include and try to position them off-center near the lines of intersection of your imaginative grid. You don’t have to perfectly line up the grids to get it right- as long as they are close, you are good to go.

You may need to shift angles to get the best composition. This means you need to think more carefully before taking a shot. To be a good photographer, you need to make it a habit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to use the rule of thirds.

To make it easier or a routine for you to use the rule of thirds, you can check to see if your camera has a setting that overlays the rule of thirds grid onto your photo. This helps to remove all the guesswork, and thus you will position your subject in an accurate position.

However, as with all rules (especially in photography), the rule of thirds doesn’t apply in all situations, and sometimes you will be forced to break it to get a more eye-catching photo. For example, when you are photographing a large group of people, it might not be ideal to use this rule.

Therefore, learn to use the rule of thirds effectively before you think about breaking it. That way, you will know when and when not to use it to get a better composition.

Use Leading Lines to Add Sense of Depth

St. Joseph Afterglow, sunset, rule of third

Canon Mark III, f13, 1/6

This is another way of improving composition in your image. You can look for lines that lead the viewer's eye into the area of focus rather than away from it.

The physical line can be walls, fences, or subtle lines such as shadows, or even a hand pointing to the subject.

Therefore, whenever you see something that can lead the eye into the scene, use it, especially when it works in conjunction with the rule of thirds.

Bottom Line

The above four are some of the aspects of composition you can consider in your photography.

Of course, there are plenty of others, but it is good to start with these ones to add style and personalities to your photos.

Posted in: Photography for beginners