Further Your Photography: Composition

Updated on August 29, 2017
Carly Sanderson profile image

Carly has always had a passion for photography and is currently making her way through a degree in photojournalism.

Learning the technical aspect of your camera is always the most tedious and challenging part of photography. The fun part comes when you have learned to work with your camera and are feeling more confident in using it. Choosing the settings on your camera becomes like second nature, and you have more time to concentrate on the composition of your photograph. The composition of an image refers to the way in which you have framed the subjects of your photograph. The composition of an image makes a huge difference in both the visual appeal of the photograph as well as the message that is being conveyed. There are many aspects to composition, some of which will be discussed below.

The most basic elements of composition and the ones that you need to learn first are leading lines and the rule of thirds. Although these rules are used by many photographers to help when placing subjects in the photographs, they are only guidelines, and should not be followed for the sake of it. If you think an image is going to work better without using these rules, then you should follow your own intuition.

Leading lines refers to natural or man-made lines in the image that lead the viewer’s eye to a certain object in the image. They can be created out of actual lines, such as those painted on roads or found in architecture, or they can be made out of more abstract things, like shadow and light. The point of leading lines is to emphasize a certain object or space in the image by guiding the viewer`s eye to that area with lines. They can also make a potentially average photograph into something that is really interesting. The lines do not have to be in the center of the image, nor do they have to be straight. The images below show examples of leading lines. One has the double lines created by the actual building that leads the eye to the men walking in the distance.

The lines made by the walls leads our eye to the two men
The lines made by the walls leads our eye to the two men | Source

In the image below, the line is more jagged, and makes for an incredibly interesting photograph, as the lines point the viewers eye straight to the man climbing the stairs.

The line leads the eye up to the man.
The line leads the eye up to the man. | Source

The rule of thirds is another popular framing technique. Every photographer has used the rule of thirds in their photographs, as it creates an aesthetic that appeals to the human eye. The rule of thirds is achieved by creating imaginary lines that form a grid on the photograph. The grid has two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, creating points that intersect. The effect is created by placing the most important object in the photograph on one of the intersections of the grid. If the photograph is a portrait, photographers like to place the eyes on the intersection, as this is usually the point that needs to be emphasized. The object does not necessarily have to be on the intersection, it can just follow the lines that divide the photograph into three. For example, in landscape photography, you can use the rule of thirds in order to place the horizon in a pleasing way. It is generally accepted that you do not place the object of your photograph in the middle, as the images tend to come out without any depth.


Placing the object on the third of the photograph gives it depth.
Placing the object on the third of the photograph gives it depth. | Source

It is a general rule in photography that you place the empty space in the photograph in the direction that the subject is looking. This creates the illusion that the subject is looking into the photograph, rather than out of the picture. Placing someone in a way that makes it seem they are looking out of the photograph can make the viewer feel uncomfortable, as they do not know what is outside of the frame. However, if this is your intention, then this is perfectly acceptable.

Placing your subject looking into empty space is more comfortable for the viewer.
Placing your subject looking into empty space is more comfortable for the viewer. | Source

These are the main elements of composition that all beginner photographer use. Once again, once you have learned how to use these rules, it becomes easier to break them. It is up to you to decide whether the framing in your photograph works or not.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Carly Sanderson

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      • Simon Lam profile image

        Simon Lam 

        14 months ago

        Hi Carly!

        I enjoyed reading your article on composition. Good job! Would have loved to see some of your own photos too.

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