5 Rules of Composition in Photography

keren fedida Tone Balance

Are you fed up with taking bland and average looking photos? You have probably seen many great photos online taken by professionals and other experts in the field of photography and started to wonder how you can achieve similar results. Following rules of composition in Photography can help you to achieve similar results to the professionals. Whether you are trying to get serious about your photography, or you just want to up your game for your upcoming holiday shots. Follow these 5 rules of composition in photography and you will quickly start to notice dramatic improvements in your shots.

Leading Lines

One of the most famous rules of composition in photography is the use of leading lines. This basic photography technique can be very powerful and effective when you use it correctly. Using leading lines can create unique composition in photography. This is when you use lines that naturally appear in the scene to draw attention to the subject. For example, you might notice a path, fence, river, or bridge which you will then use to lead the viewers eye to the mountain or person further back in the shot.

Types of Leading Lines

Horizontal lines

Another of the basic photography techniques is the use of horizontal lines. Horizontal lines can be found in both landscape and street photography. Often, the photographer will use wide-angle lens to create the dramatic effect of lines appearing from one side of the picture to the other. Good candidates for horizontal lines might be fences, the edge of a landscape, lines that appear on houses, roads, and crops in fields.

In the image below the horizontal lines provided by the barriers are obvious within the shot. Furthermore, they add to the composition of the image along with the bike. However, not all horizontal lines will be so obvious when you are framing a shot. For example, you might have a horizontal line in the background of a landscape shot but it is obscured by the mountains and the skyline. However, it is still there but you just need to be more aware as a photographer.

Horizontal Line Composition

Vertical lines

Leading the viewers eye through vertical lines is one of the more fundamental rules of composition in photography. This is a basic photography technique which can be effectively used as a composition for beginner photographers. You can then create unique images and add a level of professionalism to your shots. These lines can be found in various forms of photography, including, street, fashion, and landscape. Vertical leading lines are used to convey strength, power, and stature. Vertical leading lines are often used in a portrait frame as objects of repetition. Additionally, these types of lines could be used to show the growth of a plant or tree, or the power and strength of an iconic building.

The picture below is not the most advanced image you will ever see. However, it demonstrates the technique and how it can be effective. I was walking with my camera and noticed the two girls walking away from me. One was wearing a sweater that was a similar color to the surroundings. I simply used the platform that I was walking on to lead the viewer towards the subject. That is how easy it is to hit a nice leading line composition. Once you have used this basic photography technique a few times you will start to notice vertical lines more often and soon begin to master the composition of them.

Two ladies walking towards an island at Yangjiang Park

Diagonal Lines

This is one of my favorite techniques for street photography. Although, you can also use this unique composition in photography in your landscape photos. Diagonal lines will create interest for the viewer as the diagonal line intersects with other lines and points of interest in your image. Great candidates for diagonal lines include street scenes, roads, staircases, buildings, and architecture.

Although it may seem complicated to use diagonal leading lines, it will start to become easier once you have tried a few times. This is a good composition for beginner photographers to try. In the image below I notice the diagonal lines that appeared naturally in the shot, and the girl playing on her phone. I then positioned myself so I was square on and set the zoom and focus up to correctly expose the shot.

Baishizhou Composition

Converging Lines

Converging lines are ones that come together in the frame. They will often start from a wide position at the bottom and come together at the top. Like other types of lines already mentioned, these lines can create interest in your image. This is done by leading the viewers eye to a certain point in the shot where we want them to look. These types of lines are used in street and landscape photography. A particularly effective method is to place yourself in the shot and have the lines starting wide in front of you. Good candidates for this include train tracks, roads, tunnels, and hallways.

Converging train track line composition

Create Depth

rizknas Creating depth Landscape
Creating depth Landscape

This is one of my favorite ways to achieve unique compositions in photography. Sure this is one of the basic photography techniques, but it can be very effective in adding interest to viewers. The basic principle of this technique is to create depth by having foreground, midground, and background layers in your image. I find this rule of composition in photography works most effectively with landscape and travel photos. Although, it can also work with other forms such as street photography.

An amateur will see a great scene, take out their camera or phone, take the shot and then move on. Usually when you see an epic landscape or travel scene you will already have the midground and background given to you. So, the remaining task is to find an object to act as the foreground for you. For example, the midground might be a boat or house, the background could be the mountains and sky. If you can then find a branch or fence to get behind for your foreground you have your three layers. Once you have mastered this basic photography technique people will be blown away by your photos and they will not know why.

Usually, photographers will set their focus to the midground object when practicing this technique. However, having the focus on the foreground can also give you interesting results. So next time you go to the park or take a hike look out for some great scenery and start to practice layering your shots. You will quickly notice a vast improvement in the quality of your images.

Power Points

This composition rule for beginner photographers can be used in conjunction with the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is a basic photography technique in which you split your frame into thirds. For example, if you are shooting a landscape the foreground may appear in the bottom third, midground in the middle of the shot, and the sky or background in the top third of the shot. So, you can imagine your frame as a three-by-three grid on your screen with the various sections intersecting. It just so happens that the eye is naturally drawn to these points where the lines intersect.

Power point composition uses this rule of composition in photography by placing objects of interest where the lines intersect and the eye is drawn to. Therefore, according to the rule of thirds there are four power points in any frame where the lines intersect, whether it be a horizontal or vertical frame. In the example below the splashes of light within the horizontal frame appear at the first and fourth power points. This creates a sense of balance within the image. Most modern cameras will allow you to turn on the gridlines on the back monitor, which I would recommend you do to help with composition. You can also view these in Lightroom when editing.

clay banks PowerPoint Composition

Balance

Balance is a unique composition technique in photography that is based around the concept of visual weight. Elements within a photograph such as objects, colors, tones, each have visual weight. By composing these elements correctly in the frame we can achieve ‘visual balance’.

Types of balance

Symmetrical balance

Symmetrical balance is usually achieved by placing the subject in the center of the composition, with both halves of the photograph appearing the same. Photographers often use this unique composition in photography with water reflections. Both sides of the photo are given equal weight and sometimes will appear perfectly symmetrical.

tim-navis-symmetrical-reflection

Asymmetrical Balance

Asymmetrical balance can be achieved through balancing different tones, colors, shapes, and objects unevenly across the frame while still achieving a sense of balance.

This rule of composition in photography is slightly more difficult to achieve than symmetrical balance as a composition for beginner photographers. An effective way to get started with this is to utilize the rule of thirds technique to achieve asymmetrical balance. If we take the image below as an example, the top and bottom thirds are dominated by light colors and tones, and then the darker greens and blacks appear in the middle of the frame to balance off against those lighter tones.

Asymmetrical Balance

Color Balance

Another way that asymmetrical balance can be achieved is through color balance. As a photographer it is worth being aware that different colors within an image have different weights. Calm and pascal colors are considered to be light weight, whereas strong and vibrant colors are considered as heavy. Therefore, you would only need a small amount of a strong vibrant color to equal out the weight of the lighter color. If you have too much or little of one or the other your image will appear to be uneven.

Color balance can help us to achieve unique compositions in photography, which will result in shots that stand out amongst the crowd. This can be used as a composition for beginner photographers to add more creativity and style to their images. If you take the image below on the left, even though there is only a tiny amount of red in the image, your eye is immediately drawn to it as the brightness of the red contrasts the bleak snowy day. Again, in the image below on the right, the bright orange provides a nice contrast to the dull grey. Furthermore, because there is only a small amount of the strong orange, balance is achieved.

Tienanmen Temple Zhangjiajie

Tonal Balance

Tonal balance is a type of asymmetrical balance that can be achieved through balancing light a darker tone throughout the entire shot. This rule of composition in photography is most often used, and most easily observed in black and white photography where tones are easily distinguishable. Darker tones are ‘heavier’ within an image, and therefore as a photographer you require less of them to balance out lighter tones.

You can use this as a composition for beginner photographers, and start to focus on light and darker tones when shooting. If we look at the image below, we can see some darker tones in the man’s head and hair, buddha monk statue, trees, and the bottom right-hand corner of the image. However, the lighter tones make up most of the image, balancing out the darker tones. The rule of thirds is also adhered to here with darker tones mainly featuring around the edges of the shot, thus again giving the image a sense of balance.

keren fedida Tone Balance

Light and dark

To create a unique composition in photography you can use this rule to show amazing contrasts. This rule of composition in photography can effectively be used in street images, particularly black and white silhouettes, and by landscape photographers. For this basic photography technique to be most effective the photographer should try to show contrast between the subject of the photo and the area around the subject.

In the image below I used the afternoon sunlight as it has a nice warmth to it. I was enjoying photographing the light, and then I saw my subject move into the shot. Her black dress was nicely contrasting the afternoon sunlight that was pouring through the gap. Other ways of doing this include shooting silhouettes, and starting off with dark around the edges of the frame and going lighter as you get inwards, with a single dark point at the center, or vice versa.

Alone and dusk dark

How and when to Practice

Learning the theory is only the first part to mastering the 5 Rules of Composition in Photography. If you are using these as compositions for beginner photographers, you must practice in order to master these basic photography techniques. I would recommend you start by focusing on one or two of the above techniques. Then once you feel that you have made progress, and have some good shots to show for it, you can move onto the next rule. You will soon start to create some unique compositions in your photography. Continue like this until you feel you have a real sound basis in all the above rules. The beauty of this is that after some time you will start to notice and feel these compositions without really thinking about it. Then it will take you less time to line up a unique and awesome shot.

In terms of when to practice, like any other skill the most effective way is as often as possible. You must bear in mind that the key here is to master each rule of composition in photography, not to take amazing shots every time you try. It is always better to practice a new skill in an environment where there is no pressure, then when it counts you already have the tools to take a great shot. I often use my phone to take shots, just to keep up my photography game and practice compositions. I would recommend that you do the same.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this article about the 5 Rules of composition in photography. You will find that when you practice these basic photography techniques you are able to take some amazing shots. This is because these techniques give any photographer a point of focus when shooting. I recommend that you get out and get started with some of these as soon as possible.

To get unique composition in photography there are many rules of composition. The 5 mentioned above are just some that I like to focus on. Others that you should also consider learning about are; the rule of thirds, framing, repetition, and filling the frame/cropping.  

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