A Basic Guide To Photography Composition

Composition in photography is about being conscious of how the human eye travels across a piece of work. In the UK and the most of Western culture we read things from left to right, this applies to reading a book just as much as admiring a painting or photograph. We’re also attracted to bright objects first, after all, nobody has ever looked an image of the solar system and not noticed the sun.

By understanding these principles, we can apply the following six guidelines to create a stunning composition.

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The rule of thirds

The most important rule in photography is the rule of thirds. This says that when composing a scene, you should divide your shot into nine equal sections using vertical and horizontal lines. The elements of the shot you want the eye to focus on should sit on or around the four intersections. Many DSLR cameras and even some smartphones include a helpful grid in their ‘live view’ display.

While we tend to place the subject in the centre of the photograph, placing it off-centre can often produce a more attractive final product. When setting up a shot using this rule, be aware of all the straight lines and point of interest in the composition, including the horizon, trees, even a pair of glasses if you’re shooting portraits.

rule of thirds photography composition

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Using frames

Frames help focus the eye on your subject, used commonly in wedding photography, framing uses the environment (bridges, arches, tree branches or doorways) to centre your audience’s attention. This technique can also add depth and context to a photograph.

using frames in photography composition

Leading lines

The point of a decent composition is to help the audience read your photograph, and leading lines do just that by drawing their eye to your subject. These lines could be a road, a line on a pavement or even a natural element such as a hedgerow, they add symmetry as well as give your subject context.

leading lines in photography composition

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Clean your background

If you flick through the images on your phone looking for a great picture to print and mount on your wall, the chances are you’ll be looking for a while. Cameras have an unscrupulous tendency to flatten the foreground into the background, this contrasts with how the human eye finds no difficulty in distinguishing between the two. To correct this, make sure your background is ‘clean’, free of any great detail that might distract from your subject. Once printed, your audience’s eye will then be pulled towards the subject without distraction.

plain background in photography composition

Patterns and symmetry

Patterns are very pleasing to look at and shoot in photography, they add a sense of depth, order and life to a subject. Breaking the pattern can also work, remembering the rule of thirds, try finding a symmetrical building and add a focal point that bears no relevance, suddenly the image comes alive. A great example is that of a photographer snapping the dramatic heights of skyscrapers, the thousands of windows giving endless symmetry and depth as they reach into the sky, the photo is complete when an aircraft flies over, breaking the symmetry but ensuring the photograph lives on.

patterns and symmetry in photography composition

Depth of Field

Getting a sense of depth of field in photography can be tricky for the newcomer as we’re working in a two-dimensional space. To trick the eye into appreciating a third dimension, include objects in the foreground, middle ground and background. If you don’t have immediate access to a glorious horizon to do this, try overlapping your subjects. Your audience’s eye will distinguish between the overlapped layers and see depth.

Depth of field photography composition

The great thing about modern digital photography is that you can experiment, play and test different angles, different light and different dimensions to enhance and focus your subject. If any of the rules above are restrictive, then ignore them! If you still manage to compose the photograph of a lifetime we’d love to hear from you, get in touch via Facebook for a chance to be featured on our blog. And if you’re looking for equipment protection, we offer specialist photography insurance.

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