Composition is one of the fundamental ideas behind all art, whether it’s photography, painting, or graphic design. It is the word to describe how everything in your piece fits together.
But photography composition can be confusing and difficult without the right knowledge.
Read our complete guide here on everything you need about photographic composition.
What Is Photography Composition?
Beginner photographers tend to worry first about their gear. Cameras, lenses, lighting setups, posing their models, etc. They think about everything but composition. And yet, this is what brings together their image.
The photographic composition is what separates a well-taken image from a hasty snapshot. There are specific composition “rules” that you need to learn and consider when capturing an image or a scene.
These rules will become second nature. You won’t even have to think about composition. You’ll just shoot. But for now, read through our guide, take notes, and then go out there and apply these rules of composition.
The Basic Composition Rules of Photography
Any photographs with people in them will have eyelines. Unless you love the “guillotine composition” (a portrait with the head outside of the frame), you’ll have eyelines.
Eyelines are where your subject is looking. It could be towards the camera and the viewer. It could also be to another person or subject in the frame. Some lead you out of the frame.
Eyes in an image are our go-to place to start. We follow their eyeline to what they are placing their focus on. The article linked above will give you all the information you need to know to utilize eyelines in your photography.
The horizon is important. It is the place where the sky and land will always meet, and it is all around you.
So where do you put this dominant line into your frame? Well, many people will divide an image 50/50, placing the line in the center of the image.
This doesn’t place importance on either half. It might be symmetrical, but it doesn’t give you anything other than the feeling of two images stuck together.
The important question is what is more interesting: the Sky or the Earth? Read our article linked above to gain a better understanding of the perfect placement of the horizon in your photo.
The rule of thirds is among the most essential rules of composition in photography. When you start taking photos, you get to know this rule very quickly.
The rule of thirds divides the frame with two vertical and two horizontal lines. The four lines intersect at four points. To create a visually appealing photo, you should place your points of interest on or near these spots.
The article linked above will tell you everything you need to know on how to use the rule of thirds in photography.
After taking many photos, you will find every shot has lines, shapes, and forms. Some images will have more than others. As photographers looking to improve our composition, we can use these to our advantage.
Lines are the edges of a subject or an object that show the boundaries between two or more different items. They also serve to lead the viewer’s eyes. The shape is what gives the object character.
It might be 2-dimensional. Yet the form is what makes it look 3D through the use of shadows or perspective.
The article linked above will tell you everything you need to know about using these design elements. They make for great additions to your photography composition.
Triangles are very important shapes. Look at the pyramids for their strength and power. You will also find them in everything you see and aim to photograph.
They are powerful as they combine the techniques of lines and paths. They give the viewer the impression of stability.
These triangles can encompass the leading lines rule. You can use them to point towards a part of the image with interest.
Implied triangles are what you will find to be the most common. The lines make up an implied shape rather than an exact triangle.
The article linked above has everything you need to know about using triangles in your composition.
The visual weight of an image is more than the sum of its parts. Every subject or object in your frame has a visual weight. By understanding the weights of objects, you can better position them in your photo.
For example, eyes provide very strong visual weights in images. They are the places where we place the most amount of our attention. If you want the viewer to focus on the person’s face, reducing the weight given to the eyes might limit the impact on the viewer.
The article linked above tells you everything you need to know about visual weight in photography.
Balancing an image is a great start to a successful composition. Symmetry can be an effective way to show a balanced scene. This can be right to left, as seen in an architectural scene. Or it could be top to bottom, which you see in a reflection.
They are both powerful techniques and draw your attention to the image. The placement, size, and visual weight of the objects in the scene are important in creating a balance.
However, the opposite can also work. Unbalancing a scene on purpose can cause tension. It will have your viewer searching the image for understanding or meaning.
The article linked above tells you everything you need to know about balancing your images.
A great place to start with composition is focusing on capturing one subject. This will help you focus on one subject or item. This helps you and your viewer forget about any distracting or complex arrangements.
One single point will break up a plain scene and add interest to an area that is otherwise lacking. What you want from having a single point comes down to your own vision and what is available to you.
Photographing a portrait is a prime example of this single-point composition. It can even work alongside the rule of thirds, placing the subject’s face at one of the intersecting points.
The article linked above has everything you need to know about using a single-point composition in your photos.
Choosing the right focus point is crucial for composition in photography. The right focus point helps isolate your subject. This is helped further by keeping the rest of the image blurred.
Before experimenting with the focus points to improve your photography composition, you need to understand the technical part.
Read the article linked above to learn how to use focus points in photography composition.
Figure-to-ground is a form of composition. We can use it to differentiate between two parts of the image with contrasting colors. A silhouette is a perfect example. This is a great technique to separate your subject from its background.
This type of composition takes an image of a subject in a way that gives them the most attention. If you were to photograph a white dog in the snow, it would be difficult for the viewer to focus on the animal. This is because the foreground and background are white.
On the other hand, a great example of figure-to-ground composition would be photographing a black dog in the snow. The sharp contrast is what makes this a figure-to-ground composition.
The article linked above has everything you need to know about figure-to-ground composition.
The golden ratio is a composition guide. It is sometimes called the Fibonacci spiral, golden spiral, phi grid, or golden mean. It helps lead the viewer’s eye through the entire photo, leading to more captivating images.
This is based on the spirals seen in nature, from DNA strands to waves crashing on the beach. The ratio is 1.618 to 1 and creates an outward spiral effect.
The golden spiral suggests placing the subject on the smallest box in the center of the spiral. Then place other prominent areas of the image on the remaining curve. It will lead the eye of the viewer through the image.
The article linked above tells you how to create images that fit this interesting compositional rule.
There is another “golden” rule when it comes to composition in photography: the golden triangle. It is a variant of the rule of thirds.
Instead of using vertical and horizontal lines, you use diagonal lines to divide your frame. This adds a more dynamic feel to your photo.
As the name suggests, you use triangles instead of rectangular boxes. The golden triangle is an excellent composition rule for everything from portraits to mountains.
The article linked above has everything you need to know about the golden triangle.
Once you start looking for patterns, repetition, and rhythm, you’ll start seeing them everywhere. Everything has a pattern if you are close enough or far away enough to see them.
The best street photographers are good at recognizing (and often breaking) patterns. They can be both manmade and natural.
Architectural photography is an excellent genre for finding geometrically perfect patterns. Finding the patterns and showing them off is a challenge in itself.
Read our article linked above on how to find and capture those defining designs.
Natural framing is a valuable compositional tool in any photographer’s inventory. It directs the viewer’s eye to the point of interest in a photograph.
They also add narrative and depth to an image, holding a viewer’s attention for longer. Frames are everywhere we look, and photographing with a camera is using a frame already.
This composition technique brings your attention to the inside of the frame. This is a good spot to put the most interesting subjects in the photo.
For all the tips on natural framing, read our article linked above.
In photography, the “frame” is the rectangular scene that your camera captures. To “fill the frame” means that you make your subject occupy a large part of the photo.
Beginner photographers sometimes leave too much space around their subjects. This might be because they are too shy to get closer to their subject. But you need to do so if you want to fill the frame.
Remember what the great photojournalist Robert Capa said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”
But how can you learn to fill the frame and improve your composition in photography? Read our article linked above to learn exactly how to do that.
Symmetry is attractive to the human eye. We gravitate to these visual patterns like a moth to light.
There is a comfort to these images. They offer a peaceful and calming mood. It might seem strange and even contradictory to the rule of thirds. But this composition technique is great for portraits and even landscapes.
Read our article linked above to find the best tips on how to use symmetry as a compositional technique.
We discussed a few rules of composition already above. But there are more to help you improve your final images.
For example, you can use the rule of odds. People find an odd number of subjects more appealing than an even number of subjects. Three is the magical number, but five and seven also work well.
Or you could experiment with negative space. It is the space between or around subjects. Negative space can highlight scale or express emotions.
Read the other 19 important rules of composition here. Make sure to try them next time you go for a shoot!
Leading lines are one of the most commonly used compositional arrangements by photographers. They are very important photography compositions.
You’ll find them everywhere, as they are very difficult to miss. But including them in your scene requires more thought and attention.
These lines draw attention to a subject or scene. A leading line can be a path or a road, leading us off into the distance.
But where are these lines leading the viewer? They should bring you to the most interesting part of the image. Use leading lines to bring attention to your subjects, scenarios, or something specific.
Read all about leading lines and how to use them in the article linked above.
We have looked at lines in previous articles above. Leading lines lead your eyes to an interesting area of your image.
But converging lines are another fantastic composition technique to use. Converging lines are lines that eventually come together and end at a point far into the distance.
A great way to show depth in your 2-dimensional images is to use these converging lines. It’s even better if you can capture many lines converging into the same object.
Our in-depth article linked above will help you understand how to use converging lines.
Horizontal lines are everywhere we look. And they form the basis of quite a few compositional rules. So it makes sense that using them by themselves is a great compositional technique as well.
Horizontal lines give the scene a location or a direction. They also offer an impression of stability to the image.
A horizontal line can be boring on its own, especially when unbroken. The horizon is a perfect example. Yet when we break and intersect it with the foreground, it can add interest.
The article above will teach you everything to know about how to use horizontal lines in your composition.
Vertical lines are not as important as horizontal ones. Yet they are still good compositional tools.
Our eyes are more used to horizontal lines, moving from left to right. This is clear in how we read and look at scenes presented to us.
Vertical lines are great at complimenting horizontal ones. They add contrast to the scene. Our tip here is that if you are focusing on vertical lines, photograph in a vertical orientation.
This will help you convey those lines and the importance of the object.
Food photography Composition
But to make your photos stand out, you need to know about lines, textures, and colors. These three considerations are part of a larger system of composition in food photography.
But those are just a few examples. Read the article linked in the heading above for the best compositional techniques for food photography.
Architecture Photography Composition
Capturing images of architecture needs a different set of photography composition skills. Buildings come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so composition is key in this genre of photography.
Some buildings are leading lines if you shoot from below. The converging lines disappear into the sky, leading your eye to a clever use of negative space.
Click the link in the heading above for everything you need to know on how to improve your composition in architecture photography.
Street photography is no different when it comes to what makes a photograph work. Whether it’s people or buildings, photography composition is at the root of a great capture.
One of our favorite street photography tips is to use patterns. As humans, we identify patterns and our eyes get drawn to them. Their repetitive nature makes for an interesting addition to your street photography.
The great thing is that patterns are everywhere and come in all sorts of sizes and shapes.
For the other nine tips on street photography composition, click the link above.
Negative space refers to the area that surrounds the subject(s) in your image. The technique of using negative space is about creating the right balance with positive space.
Here, you concentrate on the relationship between the subject(s) and the background. You can make the background almost feel like it is receding away.
Positive space refers to the primary subjects of a photograph. Positive and negative space can complement each other in a well-crafted composition.
For more information on how to create and use negative space, read our article linked above.
And because travel photography combines all of these techniques, it can get complicated. But knowing when and how to use each one will ensure you capture all the best parts of your holiday trips!
Click on the link in the heading above for all of our top tips on composition techniques for travel photography.
Landscape Photography Composition
You find a stunning landscape, hike for hours, and take the shot. And when you go home and look at the image, it doesn’t look nearly as impressive as in reality.
This is a common problem, and there might be a quick fix. Think about your composition first and all other settings later.
A change in your composition can turn an otherwise dull scene into something beautiful. The article linked above will give you all the tips and techniques you need for landscape photography.
Fashion Photography Composition
All genres and fields of photography benefit from the right composition. The trick is to experiment and find the right ones for that particular scene.
This is true for fashion photography as well. It all depends on the mood and concept behind the image.
You are free to follow or break any compositional guideline. As long as the subject is interesting, you can experiment and compose the image as you like.
Our article above will give you all the composition tips you need to improve your fashion photos.
Family Photography Composition
Family portraits are beautiful moments for the whole family. They capture the past so you can look back for generations to come. So it’s important that you do it right so the beautiful memories last forever.
Compositional rules help you achieve stunning family portraits that everyone will be happy with.
There are composition tips that might surprise you. For example, you can break a common compositional rule and cut part of your subject out of the frame! But that only works for specific situations.
Read our article above for the 12 most important composition tips for family portraits.
You might think that astrophotography doesn’t need any composition. Capturing the skies above is interesting enough.
How can you compose a bunch of tiny stars in a sea of darkness? We are here to tell you how.
The sky is home to more than just a few specks of distant lights. You’ll find the Milky Way, clusters of lights, and even planets.
Our article linked above has everything you need to know about how to frame and compose these majestic scenes.
Still Life Photography Composition
Following the rule of thirds or golden ratio might work wonders for landscapes. But what about still-life photography?
There are different approaches to this type of photography. And certain still-life subjects work better with some compositional techniques than others.
For example, using overlapping materials creates depth in your scene. It brings a 3D and realistic quality to your images.
For more ideas and inspiration, check out our article linked above.
Masters of Photography Composition
Ansel Adams’ compositions are celebrated for their technical precision, depth, and emotive power. Adams pioneered the Zone System, a photographic technique that allows photographers to control the contrast and exposure in their images with great precision. This technique contributed significantly to the clarity, depth, and detail for which his photographs are famous.
Adams’ compositions stand out for their extraordinary balance between light and dark. They capture the majestic landscapes with a level of detail and emotion that transcends a simple photo. His photographs are characterized by their striking contrasts, from the soft glow of dawn to the harsh brilliance of midday to the deep shadows of dusk.
His legacy is not only that of a master photographer but also as a fervent advocate for the environment, making his compositions famous for their artistic merit and their role in promoting a greater appreciation for and protection of the natural world.
Henri-Cartier Bresson was a French photographer. He pioneered the genre of street photography. His view on photography was capturing a decisive moment.
A great tip that we can take from Bresson is to try and find a likeness in your image. Try and capture a composition that repeats itself. Or one where the foreground copies the background.
The diagonals in the example here go from left to right. This is the same way our eyes move over an image or text. It follows our natural eye movement, guiding us.
You can read more about the master of composition techniques in our article above.
Breaking The Mold
Most photographers (even us!) call these compositional rules, well, “rules.” But these compositions are more like guidelines.
Some of these ideas and concepts have been around for 2000+ years. The medium of painting helped to create and mold other forms of composition. Others offer a more modern new take on an old ideology.
Of course, you won’t get into trouble if you photograph through a tilted camera. There is no composition police.
And in the age of digital photography, you have nothing to lose by taking extra shots with interesting composition techniques that break the mold.
The article above will teach you how to successfully break the rules of photography composition.
A central composition can work well for certain subjects. It helps isolate the subject, utilizing negative space around them.
In a central composition, you place the subject in the center of the frame. This also takes importance away from the background. It makes the subject in the center more powerful.
You also show the subject off in a symmetrical way, which adds visual interest.
Read our article above for more information on how a center composition can transform your photos.
The most important thing in photography is using your creativity. That’s how you push the boundaries of the photographic field.
Using unconventional composition techniques also makes you stand out. In the age of social media, it’s more important than ever to separate your photos from the crowd.
Creativity is more important than composition. But these interesting techniques will bring out your creative side!
Check out these unusual composition ideas to find inspiration and your own style.
Conclusion—The Best Photography Composition Techniques
Composition is essential for becoming a successful photographer. Everyone can learn the technical part and press the shutter button. But it takes an excellent composition to turn your photographs into art.
Use our ultimate guide to photography composition and evolve from a photographer into an artist.