Photography composition is the difference between a photographer and an excellent photographer; the difference between being an amateur and a professional.
Luckily, there are some common rules and guidelines, which will help you formulate your photography into a science. This will help your photos become more congruent and consistent as you come to learn photography composition.
In this article, you will learn what everyone should know about photography composition:
- Telling a story
- Rule of thirds
- Leading lines
- Depth of Field
- Filling the frame
- Eliminating clutter
Why Do Some Photos Stand Out More Than Others?
It is a way to capture life and show it in a unique way; photography is truly an amazing thing. But what makes a talented photographer? Some think it is a natural talent, while others would argue that photography is something you learn.
An even more important question is why do some photos stand out more than others if the same photographer took them?
The reality is that some photos are simply better than others. As you become a more experienced and knowledgeable photographer, you will begin to critique your own photos in an attempt to become more consistent in producing amazing photographs.
Not only that, but it will make your photographs more aesthetically pleasing and proper.
After focusing on photography composition for a little while, it will become second nature and will propel your photography to a whole other level.
Telling a story
Every great picture has a story.
Chances are, when you come upon a scene that you think is worth shooting, you already have at least part of that story in mind.
What did it say to you that made you want to share it with others or capture it for your own memory?
Before you take the photo, you should ask yourself, “who, what, where, when and why” of the photo?
This is the first and most crucial question to ponder over. The composition is everything as it is your point of view. First, take your time to look around the edges of your frame, not just in its center.
Then, you need to carefully think if your composition is according to the rule of thirds. If you are centering your subject, you are only answering the who question.
When moving the subject away from the center, you will reveal the background and suddenly add more story to the image. Moving the subject away from the center also adds depth in the image.
For example, is the picture about one person, or several? Are they at an outing or a special place that needs to be recorded as well? Is it a special occasion? What can you include in your photo to be sure you tell that part of the story? Are there props or clues that you can include that give more information but not too much?
Rule of Thirds
In photo composing, the rule of thirds means dividing the frame in thirds both horizontally and vertically and then placing the subject at one of the four intersecting points.
It is definitely the one rule that most photographers and artists alike understand and follow. It is a way to organize the photo and help your images stand out to those who view your photos.
The rule of thirds is a major part of photography composition and something you should strive to master in order to create better images.
Another aspect of photography composition is how you pose your subjects. The ideal image with multiple subjects is to be both balanced while following the rule of thirds. If you are photographing one subject then it is much easier.
However, add in a whole family and it becomes much harder. Remember that how you pose your subjects does affect your overall composition.
The second main component of photography composition is leading lines. This aspect of composition often concerns architecture and landscape photography. If you focus purely on portrait or family photography, then this won’t play as much of a factor into your photography as much as the rule of thirds.
Nonetheless, you should still have a full understanding of it in-case you decide to do some nontraditional family photography.
Leading lines is the act of composing your image with some sort of line, (or multiple lines) which draws your eyes in and through the photo. They can be used to draw a viewer’s attention to a specific part of the image or just to add balance to an image.
When intentionally using leading lines you will want a smaller aperture to ensure the entire image is in focus. Look to incorporate leading lines into your photography to make your portfolio more diverse and unique.
Depth of Field
The last main focus in regards to photography composition is an image’s depth of field. It controls where your viewers look and also what message your photograph gives off. In addition, it can either draw attention towards your subject or focus the attention on something else in the image.
The depth of field is always dependent as to what you are photographing. If you are doing portraits than you will most likely have a very large aperture to provide a shallow depth of field. This will draw all of the attention and focus onto your subject.
On the flip side, if you are shooting scenery or landscape then you will want a large depth of field by using a small aperture to ensure everything is in focus and crisp.
As you can see utilizing the variety of options with depths of fields can make your photography more diverse and improve your overall photography composition.
There are also many less important elements of photography composition that every photographer needs to consider and work on in some form or fashion. They consist of cropping, posing your subjects and how you utilize natural lighting.
All three of these elements have the ability to improve your photography and give your images a unique look specific to your style and branding.
Cropping comes in handy when you are going through your photos after a photo shoot and realize you don’t like how you composed your image. It may be that your subject gets lost with everything else going on in the photo.
Or maybe you made a mistake with how you composed it in regards to the rule of thirds.
No matter what mistake or miss judgment you might have made, most often times you can correct that through cropping. It is important to recognize how cropping can help you, but can also take away from your photos.
If you constantly find yourself cropping a large majority of your pictures then you might consider re-evaluating how you compose your shots. Overall, cropping is a great tool that can help you get the desired look you are going for in your images.
Another thing to focus on when looking to improve your overall photo composition is how you frame the light when you are shooting outside. The trend right now seems to be having your pictures backlit, which is a talent in itself.
Light is a crucial element of photography; without it, you would lose the clarity of the image.
So, you will need to compensate for dwindling light through the use of artificial lighting or specific camera settings such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
Ask yourself about the primary source of light and where it’s coming from. Also mull over the extent of light available. You might need to use a tripod to stabilize the camera when shooting in dim light.
It is difficult to find an even balance when shooting into the sun to ensure your pictures are blown out, but still have the lens flare that many photographers try to capture.
Keep in mind how you compose your photos in relation to the sun to put the finishing touches on each image.
Filling the frame
Putting too much information into one picture is a common mistake.
The reason it happens is that it is sometimes difficult to decide what is really important to the shot. The result is a dull photograph with the main subject blended in with the background so that everything appears equal.
A good photo, just like a good story, focuses on one or two important details. For example, if you’re shooting a photo of a person, consider how much background is really needed. If you aren’t trying to include the setting as an important part of the shot, then eliminate it. Move in close. Focus on the face, or on what the person is doing.
The simplest way to get rid of clutter is to find a definitive visual focal point and then scan the background and foreground for any competing aspects that will take away from the prominence of the visual focal point.
There are several ways in which you can enhance the focal point of an image. These include:
- The focus: You will need to use the depth of field so that the other aspects in front or behind the visual focal point can be blurred.
- Positioning: The focal point should be placed at a prominent position and should take up more than 1/3rd of the image
- Blur: If you are trying to click the picture of a steady subject will everything around it in motion, try experimenting with slow shutter speed.
- Size: While you can use other techniques to make the focal point prominent, a simple way is to make it large
- Shape & Color: Finally, you need to understand that contrasting shapes and colors can really make the subject stand out.
If you’re taking photos of an animal, concentrate on one area. Perhaps take a shot of the animals head from one side. If you’re shooting a field of flowers, focus first on one particular flower – from above, or underneath, or the side, and use the rest of the flowers as background information.
Even the best shot will look wrong if there are too many objects that take the attention away from your main subject. Be aware of what’s in the background. Objects far off have a way of somehow appearing in the forefront of the final image.
Actually, you only have two choices when thinking about what to do with the background or the foreground around the subject; you can either blur it or have it nice and clear. However, in this decision lies the secret of a spectacular image.
Look for obvious clutter such as trash, toys, bottles, cups or cans, but then look again for the less obvious. Lettered signs can take over an otherwise good shot. Be especially mindful of objects that appear to be growing out of someone’s head. Don’t set up in front of tree trunks, or utility poles.
If you’re shooting inside check for crooked lampshades as well as uneven window shades and curtains. Be sure paintings in the background are not tipped or tilted and that any open doors don’t lead a path to a trashed yard or clunky cars.
Utility wires, unknown passersby and street signs can wreak havoc on outdoor scenes. Take a close look to make sure you see everything your camera lens is going to see. Get rid of any unwanted clutter.
Photo composition has the ability to take your photography skills to the next level. It will make you a better photographer and help your images stand out and get noticed.
The reality is that composition will become second nature once you practice for a little while. Put the time in as it is not overly complicated and you will be thrilled with the results.
As a conclusion, remember to
- Tell a story
- Place your main subject according the rule of thirds
- Use the leading lines to add balance to an image
- Use the depth of field to draw all of the attention and focus onto your subject
- Use cropping to get the desired look you are going for in your images
- Frame the light when you are shooting outside
- Don’t put too much information into one picture
- Be aware what’s in the background
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our guide on popular photography styles and techniques for your inspiration.