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What Is Composition in Photography?

Published: 06/10/2021

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Photographers, may they be beginners or professionals, admit that composition is something that they find challenging to master. That is understandable as composition is difficult and complicated to learn. Composition is a connection between the photographer and the subject that they are taking pictures of, and it is about how they apply their own take on an image. 

Now the real question is, how do you teach a photographer about creative vision? The goal of learning composition is not to make numerous clones of someone's style. It is there to help photographers develop and build their own style and let them see the world through their own eyes. 

What Is Composition in Photography?

Composition is about how your elements are placed in a picture. It can be made up of several elements, or only a couple of them. It is how a photographer puts those elements together within a frame that can help a picture become interesting to their viewer. 

A good image will take a lot of different parts and mix and match them to eventually come up with an aesthetically pleasing result. It is basically how a photographer tells a story in just one frame. 

Real estate shot of all white kitchen interior and wooden dining set

Importance of Composition in Photography

While looking at pictures, you may have encountered some wherein the subject is taken in a beautiful location, yet it has no appeal and it did not do much for you. The issue with those types of images is that the composition was not correctly placed. 

When it comes to a photograph, composition is vital and it is everything. Usually, the technical side of a picture is very easy to learn, so the one factor that differentiates a beautiful image from an uninteresting one is the composition. 

Everyone can easily purchase a camera these days, so you need to figure out how you can capture a subject that can also be photographed by others and adjust it in a sense that it will be distinguishable from the rest. You can have the same image as other photographers, yet you need to make sure that yours will still stand out. 

Principles and Elements

Majority of photographers are not familiar with the concepts and the principles of composition. Each of these elements and principles are something to look for because it can help you find something unique in an image. 

Aside from being something that can be the main compositional element in a picture, each of these elements can be mixed together with other compositional elements so that your images are more aesthetically pleasing. 

Elements of Composition

Sometimes, it is better to take a step back on talks about creativity to review the fundamental elements of composition. 

Even though there are numerous elements that you need to learn about, you can get by with being knowledgeable with at least ten of them because they are critical parts in every picture that you take. 

  • Lines

Lines are effective in letting your viewers give attention to the parts of your image’s frame. A strong and accurate line pointing at your subject will definitely catch your viewer's attention.

Leading lines do this to a picture, it immediately points you to the frame and lets you focus your attention to your subject. Aside from the lines that lead into a composition, you can have numerous lines that work into the subject or the frame. 

When it comes to lines in a picture, most photographers try to add them from the frame's sides whenever possible. The corners of the frame are neutral and the leading lines do not cut part of the image's frame unlike the hard line wherein it does. 

Some of the effective ways to use the leading lines are from rivers and streams. They are also great in incorporating movement and color into a picture. 

As for converging lines, they can be the edges from several subjects, like landscapes or buildings, or any group of edges that point towards the center of the frame from every single side. 

  • Shape and Form 

Both shape and form are elements of design, the difference between them is that form are three dimensional because it has width, depth and height. 

Photography can represent a scene in 3D style, although paintings have more shapes, a picture has more forms. If the form is great, the picture is interesting. Forms can be geometric like an organic or building, like an animal or a person. 

  • Value

Value is how dark your picture is or how light it can be. Value refers to the shades of black, white, and grey. 

What makes photography beautiful is that you can add different shades to make amazing pictures. Usually, photographers who are searching for bright colors or other aspects in a photograph will forget to check out the numerous tones that are within a frame. 

  • Space

The way that you put both shapes and forms together occupies some space within a frame. This type of arrangement is the composition and it also leaves blank space on both of the frames. The negative space can transform an interesting compositional element too. 

When you are searching for a particular shot, especially in portrait photography, not only is the image’s form within the frame is vital, the space in the frame that is not occupied by the forms can be just as vital. 

Remember that when you are using silhouettes in your images, these forms can look more like shapes. Working on the silhouettes to make it seem at least two dimensional can also be a great tool in composition. 

Real estate photo of bedroom interior
  • Color 

A part of learning about the ways of photography is knowing more about color. Color consists of three parts; they are value, hue, and intensity. 

Photographers who use Adobe tools will recognize that the hue is the name of the color, like blue, red, green and more. The intensity means saturation, which refers to the brightness and the purity of color, and the value means luminosity, which refers to the brightness and darkness of the color. 

Some basic color schemes are good together when matched. They are practiced by artists daily, even graphic designers and photographers do it too. These color theories can assist you when you are searching for compositions for your images that will work. 

Remember to refer to a color wheel often for accuracy. You can study the different theories like analogous colors, complementary colors, primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors and monochromatic ones. 

If you check out the color page of Adobe, you will see really amazing ways to check the different color schemes. 

The page will show you other colors that work really well for your images. This will help on the backend as you process a photograph, when you process a certain color and make them a bit cooler or warmer to help fit in with an aesthetic. 

  • Texture

Texture is about the tactile element of a photo. In photography, there is no single tactile feeling. All pictures feel and look the same. As such, the texture is about the look of how a picture is perceived in order to feel something. 

For example, if you are taking a picture of a plant, there is a texture there that will give you an idea of what the plant feels like if it is in front of you. Making texture a massive part of a frame can give you a sense of a subject. 

Principles of Composition

  • Rhythm 

Rhythm makes movement by constant patterns and repeating shapes through the image's frame in random or organized arrangement. 

  • Balance

When it comes to balance, it is a teeter-totter. If you divide your composition into top and bottom or from left and right, it must feel like it belongs together. If one side feels like it does not match the other half, it is not balanced. 

Balance does not equate to symmetrical, yet you have an object on one part of the image that attracts the attention of the viewers, while the other side should have something that will keep you interested in the whole picture instead of just the larger or dominant subject. 

Images that are not balanced can hold the viewer's attention to one side of the picture instead of holding the attention to the picture as a whole. 

  • Proportion

Proportion is about the size of subjects within an image's frame as they relate to each other. It can be used within a great composition by making the proportions a bit over the top by changing your camera’s angles. 

Photographers can also place the subject in a way that will make differences in proportion and the focus of the picture. 

  • Emphasis

Emphasis points to how the elements of the composition guide you to an intentional subject within the picture's frame. In order to do this, the photographer can use a lot of techniques. 

Playing with selective lighting can help you to emphasize the subjects that are being lit. Other ways to focus on a subject include leading lines and proportion. Even the way that a photographer groups subjects or dresses a subject can add emphasis within an image's frame. 

  • Harmony

Harmony is about the line, color, texture and other factors that point out what makes the subjects the same within the image’s frame. 

Images that are harmonious will showcase how different subjects are similar, and it will utilize something that all of the subjects have in common. 

  • Variety

Variety is exactly opposite of harmony. Variety juxtaposes different subjects together so that the differences are what brings attention to the picture and the story that is being told. 

  • Movement

Movement implies motion when it comes to composition. Nothing within a still picture is moving, yet by using creative shutter speeds, zooming, or panning with the camera, you can make an implied feeling of motion. 

Living area beside ceiling height windows

Gestalt Principles of Composition

  • Similarity

Showing how subjects are alike can be a great factor when it comes to composition. This can be done by grouping the subjects together through their likeness, like focusing on their color, shape, texture, value or their size. 

The viewer is usually searching for unity within an image. This means that putting a lot of things together that have a common trait can help give the viewers this satisfaction.

  • Continuity

Continuity is about how the shapes and lines in your image work together so they can lead each other. The end of one shape must lead straight to the next shape. 

Continuity is also often described as flow. Continuity also describes how the subject within your composition flows from one place to the next place. 

  • Closure

Closure is a challenging part of composition, especially in photography. Yet, the way that a composition is  presented can let the viewer see a complete picture. 

A great example may be when you are capturing images of a massive crowd of people who are wearing a similar attire. Within that group, there are several people who are not wearing the same attire, yet the perception in the first image is that the whole group is the same. 

  • Proximity

When you place things together within a picture, they will become a part of a greater group. One example is when you use a telephoto lens in taking images of a subject. 

When you do this, you can compress a certain scene so you can make all of the parts of the image’s frame look closer together. 

Two separate mountain ranges can seem like they are on the same range, when in reality they are miles apart. 

  • Figure or Ground

Figure or ground is the relationship between your subject and the other aspects within the image's frame. Usually, these subjects may be wildlife, people, or a product. 

Traditionally, the goal of the image is to place the subjects in a place where they become the main part of an image and stand out from the background. 

In several photography genres, blurring the lines or hiding the separation between the ground and subject is typically achieved by using bokeh or depth of field

As for landscape photography, there is a different way to do it. Most people usually look for sharpness in every corner, from the foreground to the background of a picture. 

  • Symmetry

We all love order. It can be unnerving to see an image wherein the composition has a great pattern in it or it has a really great reflection yet the photographer has cut off a portion of the reflection or the pattern is not lined up properly. 

When there are scenes in an image that have the potential to be symmetrical, it is important to make them line up properly. If you can't do that in the field, then it can be changed in post-processing. 

If you are not going to follow the symmetry of your picture, it is vital to exaggerate it so that the viewers know that it is implemented on purpose. When the symmetry is not great, it can make the composition of your image look deconstructed. 

Finding the Right Composition

Below are some tips on how you can find the right composition for your image. 

  • Look for Inspiration

Even if photography is your first endeavor in creativity, artistic vision is not something that develops overnight and it does not start just because you use a camera. 

You can take a painting class or you can use different mediums to explore your creativity. You can go to museums or check out books about classical paintings and envision them in your environment so you can draw some inspiration. 

You can also think about how you can be inspired, see if you want to compose something that is the same as the paintings when you use your camera. Check out how the light was used and even if the subjects in the paintings are centuries old, learn about the ideas that were incorporated from it and try to work on them in your photos. 

You can also check what time of day was preferred in order to get the proper lighting and the locations that were visited to come up with the effect. 

  • Research and Plan

When it comes to photoshoots, it is important to know where the location is and you must know when you will be bringing your clients before you even take pictures. It is vital so that you will know where you can place the subject to get a beautiful shot. 

The last thing that you need is to be searching for the spot to take pictures of your subjects, making your subject wait while you get ready. It can waste both of your time and it often results in you losing a good light. If you plan ahead, it can save you a lot of headaches. 

  • Be Early

When you are about to do a photoshoot, attend a social event, or take pictures of a scenery, it is best to check out the conditions of the area and consider all possibilities as it can help you navigate better before you take pictures. It is best to plan ahead before you go to your destination. 

Wooden stairs beside living space

Related Questions

How Do You Fix Sloppy Edges and Uneven Horizon Lines?

To fix a sloppy edge in your image, make sure that you give yourself some room to work on it. You can zoom out a bit so you can give yourself a bit of extra space. In case you need to adjust your image when you transfer it to your computer. 

You can fill the frame if you want to, yet it is better to check out the edges so they won't come off as sloppy. 

If there is not enough space to work on the edges, you may have to remove other parts of the picture so you can fix the affected areas during your image's post-processing stage

As for uneven lines, you can straighten them during post processing. Just make sure that the crop is not too tight and carefully put them all together so it won't affect your composition. Check your images and estimate its angle so you don't have to deal with an uneven line.

How Do You Make a Subject the Focus of the Frame and How Do You Make Them Leave?

A lot of photographers are scared to fill the frame with the subject. Whenever you shoot, you must think about what the image is about and what you like most about it when you are pointing the camera. Then, make your picture about that. 

In order to get closer to the subject, just zoom in. If you are taking a picture of an insect, the insect should be the subject of the frame and it should fill most of the space. Do not be scared to fill out your frame. 

Take note that with images that have animals and people in them, the viewers' attention is always going to follow the direction that the subject is moving. You need to place your subject in a way that they are moving into the frame or you can look inwards to the middle. 

How to Correct an Unbalanced Scene?

In order to correct an unbalanced scene, you need to move around a couple of feet from left to right. Check to see if the change in the angle will help balance the scene. You can get a bit lower to make the foreground look bigger or you can get a bit higher for a new perspective. 

Usually, an unbalanced scene is often fixed by moving. If that does not work, you can zoom in or out to remove it.


Composition may be difficult, however, it is where the beauty of pictures come in. Every photographer can go to the same place and take pictures of the same subject, yet it is what is done with the camera that can set you apart from the rest of the photographers. 

Now that you have some knowledge of the concepts, techniques, and principles of composition, you can begin to look for the elements while you are taking pictures and when you apply them to your pictures. 

When you look at other pictures, you need to find elements of composition. Check out how the other photographers use them. Compositions that are effective usually have a lot of the strategies that are listed above, and they are used in a very aesthetically pleasing and harmonious way.