Master Composition in Photography for Stunning Shots

Your photos are bland and do not stand out. You fail to convey the emotion you felt when the shot was taken. You wonder how to give your shots more impact. In photography, what matters above all is the composition of your image. 

Composition in photography is the art of highlighting the elements in your frame in the most harmonious way possible. It’s about finding the best way to convey the message you want to convey.

To do this, there are a few rules to consider. In this article, I invite you to discover six rules of composition that I use on a daily basis. They will certainly allow you to give meaning to your photos.

What Is A Composition In Photography?

composition grid
composition grid

You may be feeling stuck because your photos are nothing special and you can’t get some of them to really stand out. Forget about technique and settings for now, and focus on composition. No matter what equipment you have, you are able to correctly compose a photo.

The art of composition in photography can be defined as knowing how to arrange the different elements of a scene in an image. The objective is to ensure that these elements are perfectly positioned, arranged, and framed so that your subject (or subjects) are highlighted.

This is going to mean having to change the way you photograph and having to think about what you are going to shoot and how you can “enhance” your subject. It’s the difference between “wow, that car is great” and clicking and saying, “wow, that’s a nice car, how can I take a picture of it?” You get the idea.

Principles Of Composition

1. Rhythm

Rhythm is the feeling created when your frame is filled with random or repeated patterns or shapes.

2. Balance

Let’s pretend we cut an image in half horizontally. Either way, you may grab your audience’s attention by having features of the image that are different from one side to the other.

3. Proportion

The term “proportion” refers to the method used to ensure that the various parts of a picture are the correct sizes in relation to one another and the whole.

You can arrange the components of your frame in such a way as to draw attention to the relative sizes of the various parts, for instance.

4. Emphasis

The term “emphasis” describes the deliberate highlighting of a particular element within the frame. You may draw attention to what you want to draw attention to in many different ways.

If you want to stand out from the rest of the image, try using a color that’s not typically present. If you’d like, you can also experiment with leading lines, proportion, and grouping, as well as selective lighting.

5. Harmony

Image subjects with similar features are highlighted using the harmony technique. Pictures with a sense of harmony draw attention to the ways in which many things are alike and calm the observer.

6. Contrast

The idea of contrast is diametrically opposed to that of harmony, as it highlights differences within a picture. These contrasts are emphasized to make the overall image more dynamic and engaging.

It’s also important to use caution when incorporating contrast because it shouldn’t be overdone. It’s a must-have if you want to get people to pay attention to what you’re showing them.

7. Movement

Movement refers to the photographic method of freezing the motion of an object by the use of different shutter speeds, panning, or zooming.

Although motion isn’t caught in a still shot, the subjects are still in motion when the photo was taken.

The Rule of Thirds

This is usually the first rule that we use when we start in photography. It is also the rule most often used to compose an image. So I’m going to dwell on it for a long time.

The first step is to divide your image into nine equal parts using horizontal and vertical parallels. We then obtain a grid (the grid of thirds).

grid of thirds
grid of thirds

Using the rule of thirds is: “Give depth to your photos.” A photograph is just a 2D representation of the captured scene. If you want to add depth to your shots, you will have to place the horizon either in the first third or in the second, depending on the desired effect.

By putting the horizon in the top third, you can make the ground more interesting and give it a sense of depth.

global warning
global warning

In the above photo, during the shooting, I wanted to enhance the cracks in the ground and give the whole thing a dimension of immensity. To obtain the desired effect, I deliberately placed the horizon in the upper third.

On the other hand, if you put the horizon in the lower third, you will make the sky look better. 

rules of composition landscapes
Rules of composition landscapes

Warning:

If you place the horizon in the center of your image, your photo is very likely to be unbalanced. You then highlight neither the sky nor the ground.

This gives the impression that you did not know how to determine what deserved to be highlighted during the shooting. The only exception to this rule is capturing a subject and its reflection. But be careful; the human eye perceives very quickly if a photo is tilted; be sure to level your horizon.

Emphasize your subject

It is by placing the subject of your photo on the intersections of the grid of thirds, called points of strength, that you can give it importance in your shot.

The points of strength are the places to which your gaze naturally goes when you observe a photograph. By placing your subject on one of these points, you bring the viewer’s attention back to it, making it easier to convey the message of your photo.

grid with strength points

Example: In the below photo, I wanted to show the depth of this canyon. I positioned myself in the frame to achieve the desired effect, giving the photo scale.

I also placed myself in a position of strength. The viewer will then necessarily see me, although I am very small in the image.

saw armants
saw armants

I am very small in the image. For some, the rule of thirds comes naturally; for others, it takes a bit of practice. To help you when shooting, you can display this grid in the viewfinder or on the screen of your camera.

To do this, you will need to explore the menus of the control panel of your device. Attention: If you have a Nikon, it is not available in this form. No doubt, are you telling yourself that there is indeed a grid in the menus at Nikon?

Yes, but take the time to look at it: it is divided into 12 equal parts, not 9. It is therefore not a grid of thirds but a perspective grid. A little tip for Nikonists: If you look through the optical sight of your camera, you will see this appear.

visee nikon
visee nikon

If we superimpose the grid of thirds on top, we can get an idea of the location of the points of strength.

nikon thirds grid

The Lines of Flight

The Lines of Flight, also called leading lines, are very important elements in the composition of an image. By taking care to place them correctly in your image, they highlight the perspective and allow the eye to be guided naturally toward the subject you want to highlight.

In the below photo, I used the lines formed by the snow to guide the gaze toward Kirkjufell, the subject of my composition.

Magic potion
Composition in Photography: Magic potion

In the below photo, I used all the lines of the catwalk to guide the eye to the same point. No matter where the viewer looks, their eye travels directly to the Milky Way. In addition, it brings dynamism to my image.

skyway photo
skyway photo

You can also use multiple dialing rules. The path’s line and the rule of thirds are combined here. Lighthouses naturally attract attention.

little kitty
little kitty

To note:

On an image, curved or oblique lines give the impression of movement, while horizontal or vertical lines bring stability and regularity. In either case, using leading lines will accentuate the dynamism of your photo.

Warning

Above all, avoid putting a line that causes the gaze to escape the frame, no matter how much you place your subject on a point of strength, the eye will first follow your line and the gaze will escape your image. 

Have a look at this in-depth study that observed viewers’ eye movements while they looked at many classic works of art and compared the results to those obtained by simply moving one or two pieces around.

The frame within the frame

This composition technique consists of using elements present in your environment as a frame. The purpose of the frame within the frame is to accentuate the effect of depth and thus direct attention to your subject in an instinctive way.

A word of advice: use a shallow depth of field to blur your frame. Since the eye is drawn to what is sharp, this will only increase the desired effect.

composition definition photography
door

Many possibilities are available to you to implement this composition technique. The frames are numerous: doors, tunnels, caves, trees, bridges, windows, etc.

door

Symmetry

It is present everywhere in our environment: buildings, patterns, reflections,… We are surrounded by symmetrical elements, whether artificial or natural. The symmetry catches the eye. Using symmetry in photography will allow you to achieve simple, graphic, and balanced images.

Simplification of the framework

According to this rule, you just need to get rid of superfluous elements that catch the eye without adding anything to the picture. I often tend to say, “Less is more!” (“Less is more!”).

In minimalist photography, you must ask yourself if the elements present in your image will enrich your photo and if they emphasize your subject. If not, make sure you don’t include them in your frame. By keeping only what is essential, you will gain simplicity and, above all, efficiency.

To increase the minimalist effect, do not hesitate to take long exposure photographs; the effect will only be increased tenfold.

The notion of scale

In photography, it is often difficult to get an idea of the size of the elements. Without landmarks, it is almost impossible to know if a landscape extends over several kilometers or just over a few meters, or to know the height of a waterfall or a cliff.

Bringing a notion of scale to your image is therefore a good way to appreciate the size of the elements that compose it. The human brain knows the order and magnitude of everyday objects.

So, by adding a person, an animal, an object such as a car, a house, etc. to your composition, it will be easy, by comparison, to get an idea of the dimensions of the other elements that make up your photo.

Conclusion

When you are new to photography, it is essential to understand the rules of composition that will give more value to your photos.

It is by practicing that you will learn to frame while respecting these rules without even having to think about it. In this article, I have only covered the rules that I use on a daily basis, but I know that there are many others.

I hope this article about composition in photography will help you make sense of your photos. If you have any questions, please ask them in the Reviews tab at the bottom of the page. I will be happy to answer you.

Bryan Silveira

Bryan Silveira

Photography is a powerful medium for capturing and preserving memories, telling stories, and expressing one's creativity. The art of photography offers endless possibilities for exploring your creativity and expressing yourse