Learn Photo Composition

No composition rule is universal.  No rule will work for every case.  Some clever people have noticed trends in photos that can be summarized as rules and I’ll try to summarize some of those rules.
Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.
Edward Weston
The so-called rules of photographic composition are, in my opinion, invalid, irrelevant and immaterial”
Ansel Adams

2D Composition Rules:

You can look at photos in two ways – either as a 2 dimensional plane with color, or as a three dimensional scene that has been flattened into a 2 dimensional photo.  Some types of photos (macro, long focal lengths or shallow depth of field) tend toward 2 dimensional interpretations and the 2D Composition rules seem to work well.  Other photos (mostly wide angle, deep depth of field) seem to require the strong three dimensional sense to really pop out to the user.  Of course no rule is hard – almost the opposite, simply following the rules often leads to just acceptable images. Rules of Thirds: The rule of thirds is by far the best known composition rule.  If you divide the photo into thirds, place objects where the thirds cross.  Align horizons and edges to join the third lines.

Light HouseSnail On Wire

The opposite way of saying this rules is don’t put the neat stuff in the center of the frame.
Disappearing Lines into Corners: If there are strong lines in the scene, try to get them to disappear into the corner.   If the lines break into the center or the edge, it tends to divide the photo, but disappearing into a corner seems to make composition stronger.
Bridge by Cheakamus CanyonCurved BridgeIn Front of Mt. ShastaMark And Andrea On Kintai-KyoSnaking Through Cave

This effect is often easily done with paths and railings.  It invites the viewer to walk into the photo or gives them a safe feeling.
Use “S” Curves
Apparently, they eye enjoys following “S” curves.  This rules seems to apply mostly to water, roads and the silhouettes of people.  It doesn’t strictly need to be an “S” either – reverse it or even just a strong zig-zag can be enough.
Cascade of FallsStream By FallsFence at RathtrevorMixing Water Sources
This can be combined with the disappearing lines into the corner piece above to stronger effect.
Monotonous Content:
Some images would make killer jigsaw puzzles – they contain many examples of the same object but with deep detail allows the brain to dwell on and discover arbitrary parts of the photo.
Mixed GourdsStones on the BeachFish In Large Tank


Anti Left Right Symmetry:
The eye seems to enjoy a little surprise.  Left right symmetry is the rule in this world – many things have symmetry.  If you can find examples where there is symmetry (where it isn’t expect) or symmetry is missing when it should be there, your eye will dwell to reconcile  the situation.
First BeachNon Symmetric Right Left

The first is a surprising example of symmetry – your eye goes to explore the exceptions.  The second is broken symmetry – if water is spaying up, why is one side of the background dark and the other bright?


Movement into the Majority of the Frame

If you have motion, try to place the object that is moving into the larger part of the frame (more space in front of the vehicle than behind).  If the moving thing approaches an edge, it may seem it’s about to “fall off”, which is discomforting to the viewer.  If you want to be edgy, go right to the edges.

Mark Go KartingTwo Elephants Walking In Fort

3D Composition Rules:

For landscape and environment photos, there are additional strategies you can use to make your photos stand out.  These seem to tap into the brain’s ability to perceive or reconstruct spacial relationships. Using Layers of {Textures | Lighting} One of the easiest ways to recover three dimensions from a two dimensional rendering is to use layers of lighting or textures.  They eye can easily trace outlines and assign a depth sorting priority to the various pieces in the frame.

View On CypressCouncil Building
Using Silhouettes
Another aid to the eye seems to be the use of silhouettes.  Silhouettes allow you to form a stronger sense of scene depth because there is a colour becomes a function of depth. Dark Silhouettes at dusk are the easiest form of silhouette to form – just over expose the frame in a high contrast scene.
Retreat Island SunsetRetreat Island SunsetMisty View

The second type of silhouette is a blend to ambient (often white).  Fog is the most common situation to cause these effects, although it happens for many other reasons (dust storms, forest fires, mist, tear gas.)

Eagle In Foggy TreesIMGP 0114_Smoke Through Trees

Using Reflections

Yellow Pond-Lily - Nuphar polysepalum - On Lake

Again, our brain seems clever at resolving a three dimensional scene with the aid of reflections.   If the reflection folds at the center of the frame, it is less effective than using the third line, or even leaving the fold out of the frame all together.
 Reflecting Pond Lake on Black Mountain
Using Depth of field to Guide the Viewer (Foreground Background Composition)
Sometimes a complex scene can be softened if the shallow depth of field is used.  If you have a trace that maps from the foreground to the background, that also can aid the effectiveness of the image.
RainbowOrange Pulling Rope

Using Depth of field with Monotonous Content
Monotonous content is a good 2D rule – it has a 3D equivalent.  If you have a vast collection of objects that are all (roughly) the same, they eye can use that to reconstruct the 3D scene (assuming it’s worth doing).  If there is two much object variation, the scene falls apart.  Too little and it’s boring – move on.

ShrimpDrying Fish Hanging

More on Composition
The above rules are generic – could work for anything.  Different types of photos have different types of “rules” to be followed or broken.  For more specialized topics, see:
Red Corn Flower

Learn Flowers

Flowers are something that I enjoy taking photos of.  While many of the principals involved in traditional composition or portrait composition apply to flower photography, sometimes just seeing examples can inspire.
Justin Looking In Camera People Photography

The true bread and butter of photography, there is a huge number of variations available.
Fireworks Over Vancouver From Fairview Slopes

Learn Low Light Photography

Requiring a bit of technical know how, light really takes on new properties when there isn’t much of it.
Glowing Waterfall

Learn Water Photography

It’s one of the requirements of life and often a focal point of landscape photography.
Stand In Red Light

Markets

I really enjoy markets but getting a good photos at market isn’t obvious. There are a few things to keep in mind when you are visiting.
Moon Jellies Near Surface

Giving Up

Rules don’t define the edges of photography.  Sometimes photos that are technically poor making striking images, but there are few guidelines to help.
Spines On Urchin

Tide Pools

An amazing world on the boundary of the ocean and land, A single visit to a beach will often have more animal species than you would see in a week of hiking.
Tree Beside Hotel

Trees

One of the most difficult subjects to make a compelling photograph out of.

Visit Silvergroves.co.uk for a wide selection of photo frames

No composition rule is universal.  No rule will work for every case.  Some clever people have noticed trends in photos that can be summarized as rules and I’ll try to summarize some of those rules.
Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.
Edward Weston
The so-called rules of photographic composition are, in my opinion, invalid, irrelevant and immaterial”
Ansel Adams

2D Composition Rules:

You can look at photos in two ways – either as a 2 dimensional plane with color, or as a three dimensional scene that has been flattened into a 2 dimensional photo.  Some types of photos (macro, long focal lengths or shallow depth of field) tend toward 2 dimensional interpretations and the 2D Composition rules seem to work well.  Other photos (mostly wide angle, deep depth of field) seem to require the strong three dimensional sense to really pop out to the user.  Of course no rule is hard – almost the opposite, simply following the rules often leads to just acceptable images. Rules of Thirds: The rule of thirds is by far the best known composition rule.  If you divide the photo into thirds, place objects where the thirds cross.  Align horizons and edges to join the third lines.

Light HouseSnail On Wire

The opposite way of saying this rules is don’t put the neat stuff in the center of the frame.
Disappearing Lines into Corners: If there are strong lines in the scene, try to get them to disappear into the corner.   If the lines break into the center or the edge, it tends to divide the photo, but disappearing into a corner seems to make composition stronger.
Bridge by Cheakamus CanyonCurved BridgeIn Front of Mt. ShastaMark And Andrea On Kintai-KyoSnaking Through Cave

This effect is often easily done with paths and railings.  It invites the viewer to walk into the photo or gives them a safe feeling.
Use “S” Curves
Apparently, they eye enjoys following “S” curves.  This rules seems to apply mostly to water, roads and the silhouettes of people.  It doesn’t strictly need to be an “S” either – reverse it or even just a strong zig-zag can be enough.
Cascade of FallsStream By FallsFence at RathtrevorMixing Water Sources
This can be combined with the disappearing lines into the corner piece above to stronger effect.
Monotonous Content:
Some images would make killer jigsaw puzzles – they contain many examples of the same object but with deep detail allows the brain to dwell on and discover arbitrary parts of the photo.
Mixed GourdsStones on the BeachFish In Large Tank


Anti Left Right Symmetry:
The eye seems to enjoy a little surprise.  Left right symmetry is the rule in this world – many things have symmetry.  If you can find examples where there is symmetry (where it isn’t expect) or symmetry is missing when it should be there, your eye will dwell to reconcile  the situation.
First BeachNon Symmetric Right Left

The first is a surprising example of symmetry – your eye goes to explore the exceptions.  The second is broken symmetry – if water is spaying up, why is one side of the background dark and the other bright?


Movement into the Majority of the Frame

If you have motion, try to place the object that is moving into the larger part of the frame (more space in front of the vehicle than behind).  If the moving thing approaches an edge, it may seem it’s about to “fall off”, which is discomforting to the viewer.  If you want to be edgy, go right to the edges.

Mark Go KartingTwo Elephants Walking In Fort

3D Composition Rules:

For landscape and environment photos, there are additional strategies you can use to make your photos stand out.  These seem to tap into the brain’s ability to perceive or reconstruct spacial relationships. Using Layers of {Textures | Lighting} One of the easiest ways to recover three dimensions from a two dimensional rendering is to use layers of lighting or textures.  They eye can easily trace outlines and assign a depth sorting priority to the various pieces in the frame.

View On CypressCouncil Building
Using Silhouettes
Another aid to the eye seems to be the use of silhouettes.  Silhouettes allow you to form a stronger sense of scene depth because there is a colour becomes a function of depth. Dark Silhouettes at dusk are the easiest form of silhouette to form – just over expose the frame in a high contrast scene.
Retreat Island SunsetRetreat Island SunsetMisty View

The second type of silhouette is a blend to ambient (often white).  Fog is the most common situation to cause these effects, although it happens for many other reasons (dust storms, forest fires, mist, tear gas.)

Eagle In Foggy TreesIMGP 0114_Smoke Through Trees

Using Reflections

Yellow Pond-Lily - Nuphar polysepalum - On Lake

Again, our brain seems clever at resolving a three dimensional scene with the aid of reflections.   If the reflection folds at the center of the frame, it is less effective than using the third line, or even leaving the fold out of the frame all together.
 Reflecting Pond Lake on Black Mountain
Using Depth of field to Guide the Viewer (Foreground Background Composition)
Sometimes a complex scene can be softened if the shallow depth of field is used.  If you have a trace that maps from the foreground to the background, that also can aid the effectiveness of the image.
RainbowOrange Pulling Rope

Using Depth of field with Monotonous Content
Monotonous content is a good 2D rule – it has a 3D equivalent.  If you have a vast collection of objects that are all (roughly) the same, they eye can use that to reconstruct the 3D scene (assuming it’s worth doing).  If there is two much object variation, the scene falls apart.  Too little and it’s boring – move on.

ShrimpDrying Fish Hanging

More on Composition
The above rules are generic – could work for anything.  Different types of photos have different types of “rules” to be followed or broken.  For more specialized topics, see:
Red Corn Flower

Learn Flowers

Flowers are something that I enjoy taking photos of.  While many of the principals involved in traditional composition or portrait composition apply to flower photography, sometimes just seeing examples can inspire.
Justin Looking In Camera People Photography

The true bread and butter of photography, there is a huge number of variations available.
Fireworks Over Vancouver From Fairview Slopes

Learn Low Light Photography

Requiring a bit of technical know how, light really takes on new properties when there isn’t much of it.
Glowing Waterfall

Learn Water Photography

It’s one of the requirements of life and often a focal point of landscape photography.
Stand In Red Light

Markets

I really enjoy markets but getting a good photos at market isn’t obvious. There are a few things to keep in mind when you are visiting.
Moon Jellies Near Surface

Giving Up

Rules don’t define the edges of photography.  Sometimes photos that are technically poor making striking images, but there are few guidelines to help.
Spines On Urchin

Tide Pools

An amazing world on the boundary of the ocean and land, A single visit to a beach will often have more animal species than you would see in a week of hiking.
Tree Beside Hotel

Trees

One of the most difficult subjects to make a compelling photograph out of.

Visit Silvergroves.co.uk for a wide selection of photo frames

Ads by JohnHarveyPhoto.com

One comment on “Learn Photo Composition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s