Understanding photography composition is important if one truly wants to improve their photos and move from simply taking snapshots to taking well composed photos worthy of hanging on a wall or being displayed as works of art.
Photography is all about light, composition and, most importantly, emotion. - Larry Wilder
Because photography is both an art and a science, it is a skill that can be learned and developed.
The science of photography comes in understanding the basic principles of photography as well how to control one’s camera to produce the desired effect and capture the best possible picture.
The art of photography comes into play when composing an image that is visually appealing. Both aspects of photography can be learned and developed through study and practice. The true masters of photography are those that excel at both the technical and artistic sides of photography.
Much is written about photo composition because of it's importance in capturing a great photograph. Quite often it is presented as a list of rules or suggestions to follow in order to take better pictures; yet true composition really goes much farther and touches almost every aspect of the process of taking a photo.
What is Photography Composition?
The word composition basically means the “putting together” or arrangement of visual elements in a work of art.
One dictionary defines it as the “harmonious arrangement of the parts of a work of art in relation to each other and to the whole.”
Therefore it really involves the overall look of the photo or how the image is organized or framed to capture the subject in the desired way.
Great photography composition incorporates almost every aspect of the photograph including, colors, textures, lines, layout, angles, perspectives, space, depth of field, etc.
Like all visual arts, photography composition uses the basic elements of design mentioned above which is why good photo composition is much more than following the rule of thirds, using leading lines or using some of the other “rules of composition” that are most often discussed in regards to photo composition. Understanding and applying those types of “rules” are important to good photo composition but we must not forget they are parts of the whole and do not need to be applied in every situation.
The Beginning Step of Photo Composition...Identifying the Subject
The first step towards good photo composition is determine what the main subject is and where do you want your viewers eyes to be drawn to.
A question to consider is what is the main point or points of interest in the scene you are about to photograph and how can you tie them together?
Consider how you can change one aspect of the photo such as how the light hits the subject or where the subject is in relation to other objects in the picture in order to draw the viewers attention to the main subject.
There are many different“elements of design” or “rules of composition” that help us artistically challenged photographers develop our “photographic eye” and become better at composing an image rather than simply snapping a snapshot.
As we come to understand these rules of photography composition and learn some basic photo composition tips, we can progress down the path of becoming a better photographer. Here is a list of some of the important elements of photography composition. Click on any of the subject links to find more about these “rules of composition”
Elements of Design or Photo Composition Rules:
- Leading Lines
- Shapes and patterns
- Negative Space
- Angle or perspective
- Field of View
- Depth of Field
- Rule of Thirds
- Rule of Space
- Rule of Odds
Creative Photo Composition
As we learn more about the many different factors that can contribute to great photo composition we will begin to develop our own “photographer’s eye” and become better able to visualize the image we are capturing and learn to make subtle adjustments to improve the photo composition before pressing the shutter.
Both the artistic and the technical side of photography can be learned. There are many great books and resources for the more artistically challenged photographers to use to help unleash the creative genius in us and learn the many techniques and tips associated with great photography composition.
The “rules of composition” are really not rules at all but simply suggestions or elements of design that might or might not work for you on any given photograph.
Rather than hard and fast rules they are really general principles that can often improve the composition of your photo but they are principles that are made to be broken or stretched to their limits when needed to create visually stunning photographs. Their primary importance is to help us develop our awareness and our ability to see the best photographic composition available to us.
Once we understand them we can use them when the help improve our picture composition and break or bend them when doing so makes for a better photograph.