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Photographic Composition

Composition is the way elements are arranged within the frame of the image. Its a lot like the way you might arrange the furniture within the boundaries of your room. The decision about where to put your furniture is based on functionality and what you find most comfortable. Whether its furniture or visual elements in a photo, most people like to look at compositions that make them feel comfortable. They also like compositions that make them feel good. All the rules of composition are methods for creating these kinds of comfortable, pleasurable compositions. But, a master of composition can break the rules by controlling the arrangement of elements in an image to direct the viewer’s attention and communicate a wide variety of feelings and emotions.


Photographers are good at recognizing and isolating specific compositions within their 360 degree panoramic view. When we look at a scene we’re always mentally breaking it down into a mosaic of boxes, judging if they’d make good compositions. If we like what we see, we make a photograph. Many times we’re naturally attracted to compositions that evoke in us feelings of comfort and pleasure. Our goal, as photographers, is to use the composition in a way so that our images communicate to the viewer how the composition made us feel when we made the photo.


From a viewer’s point of view, the idea is composition is based on how we can visually understand the way elements are organized in a photograph in order to figure out what we’re looking at. The placement of elements in the composition will determine the way the viewer is able to collect all the visual information needed to understand and find meaning in an image. A good composition will lead the viewer through the entire image and help them break down the whole into smaller decodable pieces. On the other hand, a poor composition will confuse the viewer or lead them away from understandings or meanings. The result is uncomfortable and irritating and the viewer’s attention is easily lost.


Many people have a natural sense of composition and never have to study how to successfully put things together in an image. Others may apply compositional rules or methods, which are helpful tools for consideration. Anyone can practice these rules, and the more they’re practiced, the more they will become integrated into your photography. Once you master the rules, then you can go beyond them by breaking them and manipulating them for your own purposes.


Compositional rules can guide us toward making and understanding successful images. Its all about learning how to make better pictures, but at the same time we’re building a vocabulary that we can use to discuss and critique photographs.  If you know what to look for in a photograph you’ll discover that every image contains the information we need to understand how it was composed. Once we decode a photograph’s composition, then this is where the conversation between the photographer and the viewer becomes much more interesting.


I suggest you explore further by Googling:

Rule of Thirds, Balance, Symmetry, & Lead Space, Pattern, Texture, Leading Lines,

Viewpoint, Framing, Rule of Odds, Depth/perspective & Figure/ground.




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