Getting started with composition

Everybody owns a camera nowadays and social media is flooded with photos from beautiful locations all over the world yet few are able to make us turn heads in spite of the stunning sky colors or epic locations, why? For many the answer is "the camera is not good". I argue that a good composition with a basic camera is much more impactful than a mediocre composition with a fancy one.

But, but... the scene is beautiful already. Yes, it certainly is but if you want your photo to be memorable, it has to communicate a story that helps the viewer see the scene the way you mean it. A good composition is critical because with it, you are helping the viewer navigate through the image reading the story. It is like reading a book, you do not jump to read the final chapter first (unless you enjoy spoilers); There is a flow to follow else the story won't be impactful even it was a pretty one.

I'll tell you a little secret ... composition is fun and you do not need a fancy camera equipment to get started. In this article, I am sharing with you eight popular and easy composition techniques that work regardless of the camera type or photography genre.



1. Rule of thirds. Perhaps the most popular technique used. It is simple and pleasing to the eye. Divide your frame into three rows and three columns to get a 3x3 grid (some cameras will display the grid for you, check the settings) and place your subject of interest touching one of the four intersecting points.

Observe the orientation of your subject, I prefer my subject facing towards the center giving them more room in the image. Also, pay attention to your horizon line, make sure it is straight.

2. Leading lines. Using lines to guide the eyes through the image is a powerful tool to add depth to the image. Usually the lines start from the bottom corners of the frame and do not need to be straight lines; Anything can create such line, a trail, a road, water flow, the edge of a cliff, a shadow, a fence. Possibilities are endless.

3. Frame within a frame. Imagine you are seeing the main subject of interest through a window. The window frame guides the eye to the subject. A frame can be an actual window, a door, a cave, a shadow, a tree, a wave, clouds. Be creative!

4. Layers. Layers can help you provide depth to your image. Layers can be defined with tones, colors, textures, sizes, etc.

5. Fill the frame. Straightforward, you fill the frame with your subject. Here there is nothing more than just your subject. Whether it is a singular or plural.

6. Negative Space. To emphasize your subject, think minimalistic, make a statement by isolating the subject from any distraction. The "emptiness" can be sky, water, fog, a plain wall, a single color space.

7. Symmetry: Having math flashbacks? While there are various types of symmetry, we'll focus only on the mirror effect. That is, if you draw a line though the middle of the image, either horizontal or vertical, both halves are almost identical. Lake reflections, a butterfly, some flowers are good examples

8. Perspective. By moving around your subject, looking up, to the side, down, etc. there's an angle at which the objects closer to the lens appear larger than the objects farther away even if in reality it is the opposite. Find an angle (or point of view) that the viewer hasn't seen before for more impact. This technique is also great to add depth to your image.

As you probably noticed by now, any of these techniques can be used in isolation or in combination with others which opens a world of possibilities for your creativity. They are your tools to use, mix, dismiss, however you deem necessary to convey your story.


Final words

#1 Get your composition on site. Often times we try to fix a composition during post-processing by cropping or otherwise transforming the image. In doing so, the image looses resolution and sharpness. Lookout for things (or people) that are out of place in your composition or can be an eyesore.

#2 Remember that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Both Van Gogh and Picasso are masters in their own style yet they couldn't be more different. Do not be afraid to be different, develop your own style.

#3 Check out this article on selecting a new camera where I write about key attributes of cameras/lenses and their impact on your image, it is good information to know before buying a new camera.

Which composition technique do you use the most? What type of photography do you do?

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