Chapter 6: Composition In Photography – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide

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The Black Light Studios

Welcome to the sixth chapter of Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide.

In the last chapter, we took an in depth look at exposure triangle in photography. As it is important to have a perfectly exposed photo, it is also very important to have a well composition in your photo. So, in this chapter 6, we will go in depth on composition and I will provide you some important composition methods which is easy to achieve and a good guideline for you as a beginner photographer. Now, let’s get started.

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Table Of Contents For Chapter 6

  • Introduction
  • What Is Composition In Photography?
  • Why Is Composition So Important In Photography?
  • Does Composition Have Rules?
  • Common Composition Techniques In Photography
  • Summary Of Chapter 6
  • Self Assessment Questions (SAQ’s)
Mosque At Abu Dhabi (Travel photography)

Introduction

Composition in photography is one of the absolutely key elements of any good image. In simple words, it is important to have a good composition in your photo. If your photos, do not have good composition, then they are just not good photos, it is as simple as that.

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Composition can be hard to wrap your head around, plus it includes lots of confusing rules and terms. That is why this chapter is solely dedicated to composition. I will take you through everything you need to know about the principles of composition in photography. 

I am going to share with you the most common composition techniques which will help you to get started as a beginner photographer. When you are done with this chapter you will know all about composition and how you can use it for amazing photos. 

Mountain Landscape

What Is Composition In Photography?

In photography composition refers to the arrangement of elements within a photograph. Composition is the language that you, the photographer, can use to communicate with the viewer. How you place the different components of your image relative to each other is what gives your photos meaning.

For instance, these are all common composition questions:

  • Where should I put my subject?
  • Should I include two or more people in the frame?
  • Should I include a lot of the sky or a lot of the foreground?
  • What is negative space and how to avoid or use it?
  • Should I cut off a person’s limbs?
  • Where should I position the horizon?
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There are many other common questions regarding composition, but hopefully you’re starting to get the picture that, “the composition is about the way different parts of your photos are positioned, and the way they fit together.” 

If you ask any professional photographer with 20 plus years of experience what matters most in photography, I am sure that the composition would be in their top five list including exposure, lighting and few other things.

Note: I will be dedicating a chapter solely to lighting in photography so stay tuned for that and for exposure you can read my chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4 and chapter 5 which contains every information you need on overall exposure of your image.

Amtelope Canyon

Why Is Composition So Important In Photography?

Composition is one of the most important thing every photographer needs to master.But why? Why is composition so important? Why does it matter so much in photography?

The answer for that is: By arranging elements in a particular way, you affect the way the viewer experiences the resulting photo. Composition makes all the difference between a stunning photo and a terrible one.

Composition is an important factor of what message you want to convey through your image or what you want your viewers to pay attention to in your photo. By using a good composition you can draw the attention of your viewers to the subject of your image.

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You can achieve many different feelings you want your viewers to feel by arranging the elements of your photograph. Composition can make a boring photo to an amazing photo. That is why composition is an important element in photography.

One may assume that a good composition is one that is most pleasing to the eye. Consequently, the goal of good composition ought to be showing your subject or object in a flattering, aesthetically pleasing manner. But such opinion is a little superficial. Not every work of art is supposed to be pleasing or beautiful to the viewer. Some artists try to express different, stronger ideas and their subject, as well as composition choices help achieve that.

For example: If a photographer wants the viewer to feel uncomfortable or nervous, than the photographer will choose a composition that is least “natural” and come up with something unexpected and shocking.

You can achieve all these by applying rules of composition which is what our next topic is about:

Flower Macro Photography
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Does Composition Have Rules?

You might have heard of few popular rules of composition such as the rule of thirds (in depth information in next topic of this chapter).

To be more precise rules of composition is not exactly rules but it is perfect to say that it is more of a guideline or different types of techniques you can use for composition in your photograph.

So, the above mentioned rule, the rule of thirds isn’t actually any rule but it is a guideline created for helping photographers create balanced images without spending years struggling to explain how the concept of visual balance can be internalized.

You can think of it as a helpful technique which is something that you can put in your compositional toolbox, and test out when you’re struggling to find a composition you like. 

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Common Composition Techniques In Photography

There are a number of composition techniques, principles or rules that you can use to create more balanced and otherwise visually pleasing images, such as, the rule of thirds, symmetry, the golden ratio, the golden triangle, the rule of space and many more.

So in this topic we will take a look at the most common composition techniques in photography which you can use to get a balanced image expecially as a beginner photographer. First let’s start with with the one I referred in the above topic.

The Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a composition concept where we split out our image into nine equal squares. We use these segments and the lines they create in order to help us compose our images better. You can add these guidelines on most camera displays, and I recommend to you as a beginner photographer to turning them on if your camera allows it.

The rule of thirds states that you should position your main compositional elements a third of the way into the frame, somewhere along these gridlines: Below image is an example of the rule of thirds:

The Rule Of Thirds Example

As you can see in the photo above, in this photo the fisherman is the subject and the overall image is composed by using the rule of thirds technique. The subject is placed at a third way to the top right of the image.

When taking a photograph with the rule of thirds in mind, it’s always best to compose the photograph in the camera. This is so that you can avoid cropping later to retain as much of the image as possible and avoid reducing the quality of your photographs.

The rule of thirds is great for creating visual balance while preventing the image from becoming too static. It’s a guideline that you should always keep in mind when out photographing, but don’t become too reliant on it, because there are times when centered compositions that violate the rule of thirds are actually more powerful.

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Symmetry

By including symmetry in your compositions, you can create a sense of boldness and power because the symmetry balances out the frame, while also really jumping out at the viewer. Below image is an example of symmetry:

Symmetry composition example.

As you can see in the above image, it is captured using symmetry composition. In this photograph you can see the two lines in left and right going straight till the end which helps the viewers draw attention to the subject which is the statue, even though the subject is far we are still able to focus on it because of the symmetry of the lines and it is the same with ceiling, you can see the semicircle which also helps draw attention to the subject.

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This is how you can use symmetry composition. It is possible to use many different types of symmetry, including radial symmetry (where your photograph is symmetrical around a central point), vertical symmetry (where your photo is symmetrical across the X-axis), and horizontal symmetry (where your photo is symmetrical across the Y-axis). 

Symmetry Composition Example

The above image is another example of symmetry composition used for taking photograph.

In simple words, you may have heard about leading lines in many youtube photographers, what I am trying to say is it could be any thing such as a straight railway track or a circular stairs.

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The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio in photography is a standard for good composition. Photographers who use the golden ratio effectively produce shots that are pleasing on the eye; the viewer knows where to look and then where to look next. Other terms for the golden ratio include the Fibonacci spiral or divine proportion.

The golden ratio uses a particular number, 1.618, to create visually pleasing, balanced, dynamic compositions in photography. It comes in a few forms which is the golden spiral and the golden grid.

The golden spiral uses the ratio to create a pleasing spiral that you can use to position different compositional elements:

The Golden Spiral (Fibonacci spiral)

Whereas the golden ratio grid uses a grid overlay to guide you in your compositions:

The Golden Grid

This last one is a lot like the rule of thirds, but offers a slightly different set of proportions. Both can work well!

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The Golden Triangle

The golden triangle, like the golden ratio and the rule of thirds, is a photography guideline. It’s useful for creating balanced compositions, but there are many ways of creating balance, and sometimes the goal is to create tension by avoiding balance.

It encourages the use of diagonals, as well as triangles, to create dynamic, flowing, stable compositions. While the golden triangle is less well-known than the rule of thirds, you can use it for amazing photos by positioning key elements along the diagonals and the triangles. Below image is an example of the golden triangle composition.

Example Of The Golden Triangle Composition

(Pay special attention to the intersection of the lines, which is where you can position main subjects for good results.)

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Triangles

You’ll find triangles in the golden triangle, but triangles in general are just good compositional elements. It is because triangles keep things interesting while making sure the composition is stable. 

Example Of Using Triangles In Your Photos.

Note that you can find triangles all over the place, including symmetrical triangles, scalene triangles, and implied triangles and by including these different triangles in your images, you can create slightly different effects. 

All in all, triangles are a great way to ensure your composition is very balanced and highly dynamic, so I recommend you incorporate triangles into your shots whenever possible.

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The Value of Simplicity

While deciding composition of your photograph, always start by simple composition. Most of the time you will find that simple compositions are better than other complex compositions.

There is a simple explanation for it: It has to do with distractions, the fewer the elements you have in your photograph, the easier it is to keep the shot together without including irrelevant or unrelated things in your photograph. Below image is an example of it:

Example Of Simple Composition.

In the above example you can see that it is a simple photograph of a church. It does not have any extra elements or distractions. It looks better in a simple composition.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep the composition as simple as possible. So, before clicking the camera shutter button, always check for whats in your frame and ask yourself, is there any parts that I should try to get rid of? Are there any areas that will take away from the photo, rather than enhance it?

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Ideally, every part of a composition contributes to the overall image. Which is why you should really size everything up, and decide whether it’s better in or out. Having a simple composition will help draw attention to the subject in your photograph.

The Importance of Negative Space

Negative space refers to areas of emptiness in a photo, such as a big expanse of grass, a big expanse of sky or a big expanse of ocean and while negative space may feel pointless, it actually plays a huge role in good photos. 

Example Of Using Negative Space For Artistic Purpose

Negative space helps the subject to breathe, making for a more balanced, harmonious image overall. You can use negative space for an artistic look or for any creative purpose. While using negative space, you should always ask yourself one question which is – why are you using it?

If you have an answer for that than only use it or else it will ruin a perfectly good photo or you may have to crop it later which may result in less image quality.

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The Rule of Space

The rule of space is the most simplest of all the composition rules or techniques. Why? because you just have to put space in front of a moving subject and also in front of a gazing subject. 

The Rule Of Space Example

As you can see in the above example image, the car is moving from left to right so the photographer put some space to the right of the image and just by looking at it we can tell that the car is moving.

In more simpler words, If a subject is moving to the left, put some space off to the left and if a subject is moving to the right, put some space off to the right also, if a subject is looking/gazing off to the left, put some space off to the left and if a subject is looking/gazing off to the right, put some space off to the right.

The Rule Of Space Example.

The above image is another example of it. As you can see the subject is gazing towards the right side of the frame that is why the photographer added some space to the right side of the frame to make it look balanced and convey a strong message. Which is in this case loneliness and sad.

That’s how you can create an image that feels balanced and satisfying; wherever the subject is going (either physically or with their gaze), there is space in the shot.

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Fill the Frame

If you tried several techniques of composition to find a good composition and just isn’t working just try filling the frame with your main subject, you can often create stronger, more impactful images by really getting up close and making sure the subject takes up the whole shot. 

Example Of Fill In The Frame Composition In Macro Photography

This works better and is usually a go to composition rule or technique in portrait and macro photography. You will find that filling the frame will help you to draw attention to the subject of your photograph.

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Frame Within A Frame

Frame within frame photography is a bit unconventional, but it can give you stunning, eye-catching results. Whenever you take a photo, the image naturally has a frame–the area where the photo cuts off, the area that contains the photo but when you go to compose an image, you can include a second frame. A frame within that first frame.

Example Of Frame Within A Frame Composition

Frames within frames serve a number of compositional purposes. It helps you to emphasize the main subject, one of the primary reasons you might want to use a frame within a frame composition.

Example Of Frame Within A Frame Composition

If you have a single subject that you want to really pop, try using this technique.

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Summary Of Chapter 6

In photography composition refers to the arrangement of elements within a photograph. How you place the different components of your image relative to each other is what gives your photos meaning.

By arranging elements in a particular way, you affect the way the viewer experiences the resulting photo. Composition makes all the difference between a stunning photo and a terrible one.

The rules of compositions is not actually rules but more of a guideline or a technique you can use it to find a perfect composition for your photos. The most common rules or techniques of composition are: the rule of thirds, symmetry, the golden ratio, the golden triangle, triangles and many more.

If anything does’t work try having a simple composition or just fill in the frame which will help you to achieve a great composition for your photograph.

Bottom line is, sometimes it could be hard to achieve a good composition but as you get a hang of it you could really make a boring or confusing photos to an interesting and great creative photos.

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Self Assessment Questions (SAQ’s)

  1. What is composition in photography?
  2. Why is composition important in photography?
  3. What are some common techniques of composition in photography? Name any three.
  4. What is the rule of thirds?
  5. What is the golden ratio in photography?

This is the end of Chapter 6: Composition in photography. of the Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginner Photography Guide. You can subscribe to The Black Light Studios website to stay tuned and get notifications on the upcoming chapters. In the mean time you can check my other posts on this website.

This is it for this post. Thank You! for visiting The Black Light Studios, I hope you find this article helpful to you and got the information you were looking for. Stay tuned for more posts like these by subscribing to The Black Light Studios website. If you have any suggestion or feedback comment down below or contact us through the contact form via contact menu.

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