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Composition in photography explained

Updated on December 8, 2011

What they don't tell you about composition?

I'm sure that most of beginner photographers and others with interest in art have heard about rule of thirds and other "laws" and rules of the composition. They are all good to know and implement in your photos, but do you really know what makes a good composition, and what effect certain things have on the picture?

There are two sides of photography: on one side everything techical, and on the other composition. Composition starts with shooting and choosing the technique, choosing the subject and its placement in picture format.

Composition is not exact science. There is no rules and laws how we can make photo interesting. Only guides and directions for different combinations, and freedom to apply them where they fit at our own taste and judgement.

If something works great in one case, in other it can be bad.

I am amateur photographer, and I learned this things from various resources, and I tried to present them in a way that everyone can understand composition basics


Composition is organised method. It can be compared with the work of the architect when he makes the right plan for a building in which every element has a spot according to its purpose and importance.

So, composition can be summed up in this five points:

1. Good positioning of subject

2. Leaving out everything irrelevant

3. Organize all elements

4. Accentuate main part of the subject

5. Try to show our view

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Point of interest

Point of interest represents the most important thing in the subject.

For example, on portrait the eyes are the thing that draws our attention, on seascape the boat or sun...

Positioning point pf interest in the dead center should be avoided, because it makes the photo looks static, rigid and symmetric.

We can divide the photo in different ways and with positioning our subject we can set the tone and the feeling.

1. If we divide picture vertically, we can feel that more important side is the right one.

We can see that in the newspapers where the more important articles are on the right page.

2. If we divide picture horizontally, we will feel the upper part as lighter and more important.

3. If we divide the picture on 4 parts, we'll get 4 planes with different importance, where 1 is the most important.

RULE THAT DESERVES ATTENTION

There can be only one main subject in the photo. And on the subject, only one point of interest.

Everything else should be subordinate to the point of interest.

MAIN LINE

There can be only one main line on the picture and it is in most cases longer and thicker.

It should lead the view to the most important thing on the photo. And it shouldn't go to the edge of the photo because it could lead the eye out of the photo.

HORIZONTAL LINES

Horizontal lines suggest the viewer a sense of depth, width, peace and tranquility.

Horizon line on the sea or field should always be positioned off centre, and it should be straight.

VERTICAL LINES

They give impression of height, tranquility, silence, and often monumentality and power.

Effect of straight vertical lines is always static.

DIAGONAL LINE

With diagonal line we can make the impression of movement. Every leaning line creates a tension in the picture, the tension is greater if the line is steeper.

SQUARES

It is better to avoid squares, photo with them looks stiff, still and in most cases boring.

TRIANGLES

Triangles represent persistency. Equilateral triangle gives impression of sturdiness, stability, energy.

CURVED LINES AND "S" LINES

They are called lines of beauty and elegance. If they are positioned well, they give impression of grace, elegance, mobility and animacy.

The most common are in fashion photography and nude photography.

OVALS AND CIRCLES

They make picture feel closed.

ARCHES

If the peak is positioned upwards it represents strength and tension, which is greater with greater curvature.

SPIRALS

They give impression of mobility, movement and often restlesness.

ZIGZAGS

It looks capricious, restless, exiting and fractious.

I would love to know what you think of this lens, and were this photography tips helpful.

Tell me what you think!

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    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this page. I especially appreciate the five tips for composition. They are as important to writing as to photographic composition. Squid Angel blessed.

    • JohnRayner profile image

      JohnRayner 5 years ago

      Very informative, I'll go try some of these tips out.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Interesting lens. I love photography and I loved these tips.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Very nicely explained. Great tips and easily understandable!

    • EEWorkouts profile image

      EEWorkouts 5 years ago

      Great lens. Thanks for the info.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Good tips. I need to pay better attention when shooting photos.

    • Leilani-m profile image
      Author

      Leilani-m 5 years ago

      @reasonablerobby: I don't like rules in art, some things are more pleasing to the eyes than others. But in the end, the beauty is in the eye of beholder :)

    • Leilani-m profile image
      Author

      Leilani-m 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you, I'm glad you like it :)

    • Leilani-m profile image
      Author

      Leilani-m 5 years ago

      @Elsie Hagley: Thank you :) I've seen your photos on one of your lens, and they are pretty good. A little touch-ups and post-processing and they would shine even more :)

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 5 years ago from New Zealand

      Nice lens. I have taken note of your good advice. Hopefully my photos will improve.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      You have done an excellent, easy to follow description of the points of composition with great examples, nicely done!

    • profile image

      reasonablerobby 5 years ago

      This is a smart lens that makes a really good point about subjective judgements rather than following technocratic rules. The five point explanation is really neat.

    • Leilani-m profile image
      Author

      Leilani-m 5 years ago

      @ajgodinho: I've learned this stuff from few old photography books. On the internet you can find mostly the same few rules, without an explanation. In photography, there are no rules, but its important to understand what is pleasing to the eye. :)

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      I never really knew much about composition - thanks for informing me! :)

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This lens was a nice refresher as well as I learned a few new aspects about proper composition. What I liked is that there are rules per se, rather guidelines which works well for me :)

    • Leilani-m profile image
      Author

      Leilani-m 5 years ago

      @thesuccess2: That is the most popular and easiest to follow rule, and you can combine it with others mentioned here. I use it regulary, on almost every photo, it makes photos pleasing to the eye. But even in the thirds rule, every cross-point and guide line doesn't have the same relevance and "weight" :)

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 5 years ago

      The only technique I knew before was the two-thirds rule

    • Leilani-m profile image
      Author

      Leilani-m 5 years ago

      @phdesign: There could be more added here, but I wanted to keep it simple so even the beginners could understand it.

    • Leilani-m profile image
      Author

      Leilani-m 5 years ago

      @chamanto: It was challenging to write this, and make it understandable and simple enough for beginners. Thank you for liking it :)

    • profile image

      chamanto 5 years ago

      Composition is an art. I have been studying it for few years now, and still learning. Nicely written and liked your lens.

    • phdesign profile image

      phdesign 5 years ago

      Great topic for a lens and always a challenge to teach and discuss.