Good composition can make the dullest objects or subjects interesting, and bad composition can ruin a photograph, despite how amazing the landscape or subject may be. That’s why understanding and applying these basic composition rules will drastically improve your everyday photos.
For me, composing a photo is one of my favourite parts of photography. It allows me to get creative and challenges me to find the most interesting perspective.
If we’ve ever worked together, you’ve likely seen me laying on the ground, climbing on things or crouching behind something to get the right shot. The looks I get doing this can be awkward but it’s worth the resulting photo. ;)
Before we go any further, what do I mean when I talk about composition?
Simply put, composition refers to creating an image by arranging the elements within it in a way that best suits the idea or goal of your photo.
There are many composition rules and principles that photographers live by, however understanding these 5 more common ones will help you improve your photography immediately.
1. Rule of Thirds
Arguably the most well-known ‘rule’ of photographic composition states that a picture should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts, and that important elements should be placed along the lines or their intersections.
This photo is a mix of using the rule of thirds as well as framing. You can see that the subject is placed near the bottom right axis of the photograph (axis' added for demonstration) and is also framed by the tree trunk and leaves (more on framing below).
By placing on the bottom right access, I can capture her surroundings which is what makes the photo more interesting than if you couldn’t see where she was standing.
2. Leading Lines
Leading lines are used to draw the viewer’s attention to lines that lead to the main subject of the image. A leading line creates an easy path for the eye to follow through different elements of a photo.
In this photo, the path is the ‘leading line’, as you first look at my niece Cameron and then towards John-Paul who she’s chasing. If this were in a wide-open field, it would not have the same effect, but because of the path, you see the direction they’re going and can follow it with them.
Framing is used to bring focus to a subject. This is done by using things like leaves or foliage, walls or structures, doorways or windows etc. to set the scene and draw the viewers eye to your focal point.
In this image, the door frame is framing Cameron. By framing her this way, it showcases the environment she’s in, and the moment being captured. Framing is also great for bringing attention to the subject in the image.
Keeping your photo relatively simple can be very visually pleasing. This can be done by using a simple background to avoid distractions, or by creating an angle that cuts out aspects of an image that would distract from the focal point. With a DSLR camera this is commonly achieved by blurring out the background.
By having Cameron stand up against a wall instead of with a cluttered background, we really get to focus in on her beautiful eyes and cute crown. Simplicity is a great way to focus in on details and make for very visually appealing images.
A symmetrical image can be split down the middle and is the same on both sides. In real life, it’s uncommon to encounter perfect symmetry, so your symmetrical images don’t have to be perfect. Even a very similar balance can make for a great photo.
Though both sides are not identical, they are similar enough to make it a symmetrical image. Had I used rule of thirds on this photo I don’t think it would have had the same effect that it does to see her running straight down the middle of this path.
This image also has some leading lines, as we look towards the direction she’s running.
I hope that was helpful to you and not too overwhelming.
Composing an image eventually becomes very natural. And while it’s beneficial to understand and recognize these different rules, you'll quickly notice which styles you enjoy and what comes naturally to you and begin using those rules frequently and without even thinking.
Just remember, the goal of composition depends on the goal of the image. What is the story or emotion you’re trying to portray? Which composition rule would help you portray that story or emotion?
And don’t forget to share your photos with me on Instagram by tagging @sarah.lambert_ or hashtagging #SLphotography!