“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Ansel Adams
Photographs that stand out from the crowd usually have three elements in common: good subject, good lighting and good composition. What follows are principles of composition that explain some of the ways photographers and artists have composed images through the centuries.
It’s possible that a photo may include a combination of more than one principle. What’s important to understand is that these principles are guides, not hard and fast rules, so experiment when framing shots!
Principles of composition
See below for photo examples of each principle
- Center of interest: A photograph should have a strong focal point. Determine what it is before composing your photo.
- Simplicity: Keep compositions simple, avoiding busy background that distracts from a subject.
- Subject off center: Place a subject slightly off-center rather than in the middle of a photo (see The Rule of Thirds)
- Horizon lines: Don’t place the horizon line, or any strong vertical or horizontal lines, right in the middle of a picture. And make sure the lines aren’t tilted.
- Leading lines: If a scene has strong lines, make sure the lines lead the eye into the frame rather than out of it. The lines should lead to the main point of interest.
- Foreground objects: Include an interesting object in the foreground of a scene. It adds depth, dimension and point of reference.
- Vary angles: Shoot at varying angles to capture a subject from a different viewpoint. Move the camera higher or lower than you usually do. For a dramatic effect, take some photos from a birds-eye (looking down) or worms-eyes view (looking up).
- Framing: Framing a subject by zooming or moving closer draws attention to it.
- Silhouettes: Subject made dark by photographing it against a light background (back lighting).
- Reflections: Adds an interesting, sometimes abstract, look to a photo.
- Symmetry: An identical or near-identical image of its other half. Use of symmetry often provides a formal balance.