Composition Techniques

Simplicity, Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, Balance, Framing, Center of Interest, Contrast

• Rule #1: There are no rules. Record the scene as you interpret it. Take a picture that hasn’t been seen before.

• Use the tic, tac, toe grid and place the center of interest at the intersection of the lines, be it a horizontal or vertical picture.

• Make your picture tell a story. Look for unusual lighting conditions. Paint with light.

• Use the rule of thirds by dividing your picture into three sections (not necessarily equal) or two thirds/one third. This composition technique can be applied vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Try to avoid placing the center of interest directly in the middle of the picture.

• Place the subject anywhere in the picture (asymmetrical) that you think creates interest.

• Many photographers are inclined to take only horizontal pictures. Don’t forget to turn the camera and take vertical ones as well.

• Avoid mergers of elements in your pictures (e.g. pole coming out of a person’s head).

• Avoid cluttering the picture with extraneous objects that detract from the impression that you wish to create. Keep the composition simple. Try to crop in the viewfinder or camera image preview screen rather than on the computer. The final resolution will be better.

• When taking a portrait, consider that the closer you get to the subject, the more that you are likely to capture the personality of the person. Distance has the opposite effect. Interesting effects can be obtained by including only a portion of the subject. If you place a person in a corner of the picture with a lot of space around them you can create a pensive or forlorn impression.

• Creating levels of elements (e.g. foreground, middle, and background) gives depth to a picture. Be alert to foreground objects, framing, and selective focusing.

• Lead the viewer of your picture to the center of interest through color, texture, leading lines, blank space, framing, placement, etc.).

• Geometry plays an important role in composition. Use a triangular shape to lead the eye or create emphasis. The S and C curves are very pleasing elements in a picture. A square, rectangle or circle can also emphasize the subject.

• Maintain balance in the picture with different elements. Try to avoid creating the impression that the picture will “tilt.”

• Horizontal pictures can (but certainly not universally) create the impression of peacefulness and tranquility while vertical ones can imply a sense of formality and uprightness. Tilting the camera while taking a picture, therefore creating a crooked horizon, can imply action or dynamism.

• Most photographs have three elements including a center of interest.

• In black and white photography, all composition techniques apply except emphasis on color. Texture, tonal qualities, focus, and intensity of the blacks or whites provide emphasis.

• Use contrasts of ideas or color to create interest. Incongruous signs relative to the subject, color, movement versus stability, old and young, happiness and sadness, etc. add visual interest.

• If the sky is devoid of texture or clouds, don’t include much of it in the photograph.


Stan Singer