‘Composition Definition’ – In photography a perfect arrangement of elements in an image. This the single skill in photography that can make or break an image. Good picture composition is a careful placing of the camera so all conveying elements are captured.
The camera has many setting like aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Unfortunately, it does not have a ‘composition’ button. For a successful composition, the photographer must use his or her artistic vision so an image has an expressive effect.
A photograph is a conversion of a three-dimensional object into a flat two-dimensional image. The lens achieves this effect by rendering distance objects smaller than near objects. Two parallel lines seem to converge as they approach the horizon. To be effective at composition it is recommended to study the works of successful photographers or two-dimensional art.
For a beginner, it is natural to go by some rules of compositions. Most of these rules are strategies for guiding the viewer’s eye around an image. I think rules are guidelines and it may even sometimes be necessary to break them to create a good photo. Following certain guideline can certainly put you on the right track for a good composition.
The focal point in photography is an area of interest that should be clear to the viewer. We see photographs in the same way as we read. Just like a well-written paragraph, a well-composed image is easy to read and follow.
Our eyes should not wander all over images. They should be easily guided to the center of interest. The center of interest not necessarily to be in the center. The placement of focal point can be anywhere in an image as long as secondary information around the focal point is within balance.
Unless intentional, focal point should not be dull or out of focus. A sharp depth of field will highlight the point of interest. Close-up shots are also a great way to bring attention to the point of interest.
Care should be taken when creating close-up photos. Always try to visualize what you are trying to say in an image. Extreme close-ups can isolate the point of interest making the viewer lose a sense of the environment.
In the above image, the ring clearly guides the viewer to the focal point. It has enough of the surrounding captured in the photo that it signifies the point of interest.
Our visual sense has well adapted to the idea of framing photos. We use frames of various materials, colors, and textures for our photos to enhance the looks. Just like picture frames, the photo itself should have some point of interest that conveys a visual frame.
Frames in terms of a composition are elements that lend depth to the photograph. They should be part of the environment with aesthetic value and blend in with the point of interest. Depending on your intentions, the frame should be in or out of focus. Sharp frames work well with architectural photos, while soft frames may suit nature or landscapes. Some examples of frames are – leaves, the mouth of a cave, a doorway, or a window.
The Rule of Thirds.
The placement of the focal point in the center of an image may not be the best place. Rule of the third is a guideline that has been adopted by many artists, photographers, and engineers.
Drawing four imaginary lines, two horizontal and two vertical will divide the viewfinder into nine segments. This will create four intersecting points that are thought be the sweet spots for a good composition. These spots can be used to balance an image by aligning the subject with one of these guidelines.
The picture above of this young girl in Africa demonstrates the use of the rule of third. All the elements in this picture are well placed according to the rule. The wall meets the sky at the approximately first horizontal line. The Shed sits around the four intersecting points. The girl is placed at the two intersecting lines, sometimes known as power point or crash point. These points of interest do not have to be placed exactly on guidelines in order to be effective.
Leading lines also known as linear elements is a concept in photography that can be used as a tool to guide the viewer’s attention to the point of interest. They also create a sense of the third dimension on a two-dimensional drawing. Leading lines require careful positioning in the composition. Their placement should lead to the focal point. Incorrect placement can create an imbalanced image.
Photo by Tom Cleary
Every day, we encounter leading lines or linear elements in many forms. Roadways, fences, train tracks, rivers, and stream are examples of linear elements. Perhaps there are train tracks on an abandoned bushy field creeping their way into a dark tunnel, is an example of a strong linear element.
Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin
One of the effective ways to use leading lines is as a diagonal. A winding road leading to an old abandoned town, or the great wall of China, starting at the bottom corner of your frame and leading the viewer to the focal point.
The depth of field is also important when composing a photograph using leading lines. Both the subject and the starting point of the leading lines should be in focus.
The use of lines may convey a certain kind of mood in an image. Vertical lines express power, horizontal ones convey serenity and diagonal lines signal action.
Horizon lines can be an effective way to express intense and compelling landscapes. The placement of horizon lines plays a significant role in your successful composition. Placing a horizon line exactly in the center can give your image a sense of unwanted perfectness.
An image that is too perfect in balance can lead the viewer to a sense of inaction. Unless you are attempting to create a mood of serenity, placing horizon lines in the exact center of the frame will lose its dynamics.
Photo by Chad Peltola
Rule of the thirds can help you achieve the visual sense of intensity. Using the rule of the thirds to place horizon line on one of the horizontal lines will create an opportunity for the viewer to move through the image.
Conclusion – use your own perspective
Following composition guidelines will help you create images that are well-balanced and compelling. Most of these rules are developed to guide the viewer’s eye to the point of interest. These rules are based on the accepted principle of design. As a beginner, keeping these strategies in mind will guide you to compose images to work well with your intended theme.
But remember, these are only guidelines, not laws. Feel free to break them and use your judgment to decide which composition creates an interesting perspective.
I hope this article has given you some insight into photo composition. Please feel free to add to this or leave any comments or questions below.