Understanding the Rules of Composition in Photography
With the advent of the mobile phone and tablet, everybody seems to be taking photographs, and for many people all they need is a record of a holiday or family event or a particular moment in their lives that they are happy to share with their friends and perhaps to take a look at some years later when it’ll bring back a fond memory of times past.
Some of us however wish to take their photography one step further and turn it into a hobby that we can develop and improve. So we dispense with our point and shoot camera and stop using our phones and invest in a reasonably good camera. Personally, although I was taking pictures for nearly 50 years, I only took it up as a serious hobby in 2010 when I purchased a Panasonic DMC-FZ38 prior to visiting Kenya on my first Safari.
To start with, I looked in the 128 page guide, barely understood a word, so set the camera to car and went off on safari. I took some great photos but it was only after I joined a local camera club and began to learn about the art of composition that I began to actually look through the lens and consider what I was doing, instead of just pointing the camera at an item and pressing the shutter.
Like me, I suspect that many new photographers become confused, or even totally put off, by such things as focal length, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, focusing, exposure, etc., etc., and while I believe that it is quite helpful to understand the more technical components, I do believe that the most important element for a new photographer to get to grips with, is Composition. All digital camera manufacturers spend lots of time and money on software to help the consumer get the right camera settings to capture that shot and, as I did initially, if you set your camera on auto, the huge majority of time you’ll get technically good results. However the one thing that no camera can do, no matter how much money you’ve spent buying it, is compose a photo that’s appealing to the eye.
Putting it into its very basic form, composition can be regarded as the way to create a photo that is aesthetically pleasing to the viewer. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Google”composition in photography” and you come up with these results as:-
20 Composition Techniques That Will Improve Your Pictures:
10 Top Photography Composition Rules
9 Top Photography Composition Rules You Want To Know
18 Composition Rules For Photos That Shine
5 Elements of Composition in Photography
5 Easy Composition Guidelines
The 10 principles of photo article (and why they work)
12 Rules for Effective Composition in Photography: etc., etc.!
While you will undoubtedly learn by reading all of those articles, (and I would recommend that you do in time), I will concentrate on a few basic rules that I follow. Before I go further, though some of them are called principles, recall rules are there to be broken. What I am attempting to do is to encourage you to consider what you are trying to achieve when looking through the viewfinder. I will start then with something that you have probably already come across:-
The Rule of Thirds.
Basically, if you envision a photograph divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, the principal subject of the image should be where a vertical line cross a horizontal one.
Many modern cameras permit you to place a grid in the viewfinder that can be used to set the object where two lines intersect. While we are talking about the Rule of Thirds, it’s generally best to set the horizon on one of the thirds, as opposed to in the middle of the frame, dependent on whether the main points of interest are in the skies or on the ground.
These lead the viewers eyes into the picture either to the major subject or on a journey through the whole of the picture. Examples of leading lines might be a route wandering through the image, a fence line, a meandering road or a stream or river.
To demonstrate that the principles are no more than guidelines, the next one contradicts the Rule of Thirds. If your picture is symmetrical, then it could benefit from being centred either on the horizontal, or vertical middle line. This works especially well for reflections
Rule of Space
This rule is talking about giving the subject in the photograph, space to move into the frame. This especially applies to animals and vehicles. The thing should have the most space in front of it, rather than be right up to the edge of frame, giving it nowhere to go.
Rule of Odds
Broadly speaking, it is thought that photos with an odd number of subjects is more visually appealing and natural looking than those with an even number, in which the audiences eyes may flick around the picture, unsure of where to settle. I tend to use the rule of chances particularly if taking a close up of flowers or the like.
I hope that I have given you a brief insight into composition and that when you next look through your viewfinder you’ll at least stop and think for a few seconds in what you’re looking at and how the shot may be improved. But just remember, these rules, and all others you will encounter, are simply guide lines to help you go in the right direction, they’re not railway tracks that you need to adhere to rigidly. Finally I will end with the words of Pablo Picasso -“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”