What is photography composition?

The purpose of photography composition is to make a well-balanced photo. This balance and harmony are achieved when the different elements in the photo are positioned relative to each other in a pleasing way.

The goal is to keep the viewers attention

The composition of a photo is what keeps the viewer in the photograph to further explore it. It is important to avoid any clutter and disturbances in the frame. Such elements will only draw the viewer’s eyes away from the main subject. All elements should add to the overall feeling of the image.

Composition in landscape photography

In in landscape photography composition is more challenging because it is not possible to remove or move elements from a scene. Somehow the understanding of what is a pleasing composition is built into our genes (at least most of us). Without knowing or reflecting on why, a well composed image just pleases our eyes.

Composition techniques are equally important in all forms of art. It is the same with painting and music. Photography composition might seem straight forward but it is personal. Different photographers will not have the same ideas for a composition at a given scene.

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A technical and a creative side

The technical aspects of a photograph can be learned easily. They are all absolutes. You adjust exposure or aperture to achieve the required effect. You focus on the main subject and maybe blur the background.

However in landscape photography it is often required to have both the foreground and background in focus. Composition skills require more practice and are not easy to get right for everyone. There are no absolutes in photography composition so it must be learned by practicing.

Order from chaos

When you read about composition and composition rules it all sound so simple. The challenge is when you are at a scene, and you need to practice your composition skills. If the scene is busy with a lot of elements, it is often difficult to decide what to keep and what not to include in the frame.

A typical beginner error is trying to include too much in the photo. With this approach, it can be hard to tell what the main subject is. Try to make your composition as uncluttered as possible. Fewer elements are often better.

Why is photography composition so important?

Our eyes are capable of seeing in three dimensions (3D) while a photo (unless you use a 3D camera) can only be shown in 2 dimensions (2D).

The importance of depth

As a photographer you have to use different composition techniques to give your images the feeling of depth. The purpose of an image is for the photographer to convey the feeling and mood he felt when the image was made.

A good image is different from a not so good image the way that the good keeps the viewer in the frame for a while. There is something interesting grabbing the viewers eyes. Ideally the s eyes should wander around in the frame and be led to the main subject in a pleasing way.

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Stop effect

If you pause for a second, and think when was the last time an image made you stop for more than 5 seconds? And when did you see an image you went back to and looked at twice?

As with most people strong colors make us stop for a second. I also do that, but I find myself scanning and continue further without looking closer at these colorful and cleverly edited photos. What makes me stop is when something is different, unusual and simple.

What is it with B&W photos that appeals to us?

I have to admit I often spend more time on a Black and White image. Why is that? In my opinion a B&W photo have more elements of art in it. Because the lack of colors, a B&W image leave more room for you own interpretations of the photo. No colors take away some of the reality from an image.

In B&W landscape photography contrast and shadow are important elements.

Composition is everything

Use of contrast and shadows are two of the many tools you have available when composing photos. There are many other techniques or rules, as they are better known as, to help compose pleasing images.

So why is photography composition so important to master?

A well composed image is simply what distinct great photos from the rest. You might not even think about it, but it is use of clever composition that makes you like a particular image.

Two main types of composition

Closed composition

Closed composition focus is on a single subject in a frame and there are no other competing elements in the photo. The closed composition tends to be static. The "lone trees" in the image below is an example of a closed composition.

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Open composition

Open composition have many elements in the frame and subjects might extend out of the frame. The open composition leaves more room for the viewer to make his own observations in the photo.

Use of lines creating direction and movements is one trick to catch you attention. Often these lines extend out of the frame. In landscape photography open compositions are most common.

6 important photography composition tools

When you compose a photograph you have certain tools you can use. These are not tools you bring with you in the camera bag. The most important are listed below:

  • Light - highlights and shadows to create dimension and drama in your landscape photos.
  • Tone and contrast - you can use tone and contrast in at least two ways - visual and conceptual. Visual contrast relates to the use of strong contrast or colors to emphasize the subject. Conceptual contrast use opposites like big vs. small, rough vs. smooth, hard vs. soft, etc.
  • Color - use tone and contrast to emphasize different elements in your composition.
  • Lines - leading the eyes to where you want the viewer to look.
  • Pattern and textures - repeating elements creates rhythm which is pleasing for our eyes.
  • Empty or neutral space - even a small object can be the main subject if it is surrounded by empty space.

5 additional composition techniques

If you have been photographing for a while, you might have heard about the “rule of thirds”. This is the best known of the photography composition rules.

I look at the composition rules as ingredients you as a photographer can use to make your image. You must now how to use and mix the ingredients to get good results.

Not all of them can be used together and for some images many of the ingredients cannot be used at all. It is like cooking. If you know what you are doing, you can make your own twist of the recipe, and make your own taste.

  • The mathematical rules of composition - rule of third and golden ratio
  • Balance - a well balanced image is harmonious, and each element in the scene has the same visual weight
  • Perspective - by changing perspective you can reorder how different elements in a composition relate to each other. Knowing how to use perspective in landscape photography in particular is very important.
  • Framing - think aspect ratio and camera orientation when composing your image. A painter has a frame to fill with his paint; a photographer has a scene which he must fit into the frame. The challenge is to avoid clutter and elements not adding anything to the photo.
  • Keep it simple and fill the frame - move and get closer to the subject

Composition in landscape photography requires practice. There is only one way to learn the different techniques - go out and shoot. You will learn the most from your mistakes and less perfect shots.

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