June 29, 2010

Shot Composition for Photographers

While rules are often made to be broken in the field of photography, most experts agree that these five basic composition guidelines will produce higher quality photographs and provide visual interest to your shots. By incorporating these guidelines into your photographs, you can ensure that you capture not only the elements you are photographing, but also the artistic design that you wish to capture.


Many of the best photographs concentrate on a few basic elements. By highlighting only those components that add to your composition, you can focus the viewer’s attention precisely where you want it. Avoid cluttered backgrounds; by changing the angle or the perspective and getting up close to your subject, you can often produce a photograph that is visually stunning and has no distracting or extraneous elements that reduce the impact of your composition. Professionals often position the primary component of their photograph off-center to add even more visual interest to the finished product.

Simplicity by korafotomorgana
Simplicity by korafotomorgana

Rule of Thirds

Back in the day when cameras weren’t even invented and people like you and me actually painted stuff instead of taking pictures, there sprang a compositional rule that helped many an artist paint in such a way that the scene was more intuitive to look at and generally more aesthetically pleasing. Nowadays, all these years later, this rule still holds true, making it one of the oldest and greatest places to start when composing photographs.

Rule of Thirds

Professional photographers know that each shot is composed of three different spatial elements. The foreground, middle-ground and background are all present in most landscape shots; by noting and incorporating this into shot composition, photographers can create visual appeal by naturally drawing the eye to the middle ground and focusing attention exactly where the photographer intends. By manually setting exposure levels and deliberately selecting shots with these elements, amateurs and professionals alike can create works of art, rather than mere photographs.

What Is the Rule Of Thirds?

Put plainly, the Rule of Thirds is a way of composing your photo by placing certain landmarks in the scene along imaginary ‘thirds’ lines. These imaginary lines run horizontally and vertically splitting your scene into thirds.

Applying the Rule of Thirds

By placing the main objects in your scene on, near or on intersections of these thirds lines it is thought to produce a more pleasing picture, and in doing so also avoids placing of the subject in the center which in general doesn’t look great.
Next time you’re composing a photograph, try this technique and align your horizon with one of the thirds lines, and at the same time align the subject with another of the thirds lines, check to see if it has improved the overall look of your picture.

Ignoring the Rule of Thirds

As with all rules, it is made to be broken. Sure it will work for many scenes, but you will find that there are times when it feels appropriate not to use it. For example if there’s an awesome cloud formation, and you want emphasis on the sky, you may want to compose in such a way that there is very little landscape and lots of sky. It will depend largely on what is in the scene and what you want to convey. So get used to using the Rule of Thirds in most situations and you’ll soon come across examples where you don’t want to use it too.

Which Gridline to Use

In general, if you are composing a Landscape photograph, you’ll want to align your horizon with one of the horizontal thirds lines, and lets say that you’ve got a tree as the subject, then you’ll want to align it roughly with one of the vertical thirds lines, or even aligned with the intersection of a horizontal and a vertical thirds line. Although its good to follow rules closely, try to use it more as a guide, getting a great photo isn’t about following a rigid set rules, imagination and creativity should play their part as well!


Night Rider by Garry
Rule of Thirds by Garry
Shaded by Nicholas
Alien Landscape by Tony Armstrong


While balancing the physical components of a photograph is important, another aspect that is often overlooked is balancing the colors present in the shot. Color theory is an essential element in the art of photography. Shots that focus heavily on first-order colors, also known as primary colors, tend to be more dramatic. Certain colors, such as red, orange, and yellow, should usually be employed sparingly and limited to one or two elements of the shot since they tend to attract the eye and create dynamic tension within the photograph. Too many high-energy colors, especially in contrast to each other, can overwhelm the viewer and cause anxiety rather than producing the visual effects desired; by balancing strong tones with neutral ones, a more balanced composite shot can be achieved.

Balance by Nicolas Ariel Zonvi
Balance by Nicolas Ariel Zonvi


Professional shot composition requires perfect framing of each shot. This requires the inclusion of elements that give perspective to the main focus of the photograph. By being aware of the various components when composing a shot, the photographer can produce high-quality shots that include all the important elements while excluding extraneous material. Photography is the art of including some things while omitting others; this is the main object of framing. By choosing the elements to include, photographers engage in editing before the shot; by cropping the photograph after processing, the editing process continues afterward as well. Not only can you frame with your lense, you can also use objects in nature to frame.

Framing by Mike Goren
Framing by Mike Goren


Natural lines present in the shot composition, whether intentional or not, can give an added sense of depth and perspective to the photograph. By paying attention to these lines and using them to advantage to draw attention to the focal point of the shot, photographers can create tension and drama in their photographs and make a visual statement with each composition. Diagonal lines tend to create visual paths to lead the eye to the focal point; repetitive lines, on the other hand, are often interpreted by the eye as background, bringing the main focus into sharp relief against the repeated pattern of lines.

Lines by Trey Ratcliff
Lines by Trey Ratcliff
These same principles apply to illustrations, graphic design, any page layouts, & storyboarding.

Source: smash&peas

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